Recommendations from the Editors
Malcolm Harris’ retort to all those dumb articles about millennials; a TV show to watch instead of Sex and the City; and two books that made us think about our grandmothers.
Kids These Days, Malcolm Harris
It’s telling that the birth of the millennial generation coincides with the release of IBM’s first personal computer. In 1982, we didn’t yet have GPS, MP3s, JPEG, the World Wide Web or wi-fi, Google, Amazon or Facebook. So, when you hear people complain about millennials not conforming with traditional notions of work, family, worldviews or financial planning, you really have to ask yourself if these people have any idea how radically these new technologies have altered the world.
The discrepancy between what average people of our parent’s generation expect of us millennials and how the world treats us is what Malcolm Harris sets out to correct in his recent book Kids These Days — Human Capital and the Making of Millennials. Reading his detailed, data-driven analysis and historical account makes it clear why there’s such a disconnect: millennials are one big contradiction. In many respects, we’re the most educated, well-resourced, invested-in, skilled, hard-working, disciplined generation there ever was. Yet, we’re also the most indebted, under-employed, anxious, depressed, medicated, individually isolated of any living generation. It’s not really that surprising, and Harris puts the explanation right there in the subtitle: with millennials, capitalism perfected the process of turning humans into capital, pushing the increasing uncertainty of return on investment onto individuals and their families.
If you don’t already do so, reading Kids These Days will make you start seeing worker exploitation everywhere: in the education system and summer camps, in college sports and social media apps. You’ll realize how deeply fucked we are, and probably feel a lot more sympathetic towards everyone our age.
— Hanna Hurr
On 4/20 I didn’t have any weed around, or anything to do, so I popped an Adderall and watched a bunch of Kurosawa movies. (I also spent several hours manually inflating two macerated memory foam pillows – which had arrived vacuum-sealed in the mail while I was deep into Ikiru – with a hairdryer, a tortuous method of my own making which felt like riding an elevator to the sky and stopping on every floor.) You can tell where this is leading: A few hours later, I was in a terrible mood. I went out to meet a friend, but I wasn’t good to talk to, so we watched TV. Which I wasn’t good at either because I kept becoming anxious over the scripted scenarios while earnestly trying to tamp down the extremity of my unease. But then this wonderful friend of mine introduced me to Pulling, a show that dragged me into an entirely other emotional register, one that allowed me to laugh and drink alcohol.
Pulling is a sitcom written by *Motherland *co-creator Sharon Horgan and Dennis Kelly that ran on BBC Three for two seasons and a special between 2006 and 2009. It stars Horgan (Donna), Tanya Franks (Karen), and Rebekah Staton (Louise), as a group of self-centered single roommates living in south-east London, and takes as its point of departure Donna’s decision to end her engagement to a man who makes breakfast for her, named Carl. Karen is an alcoholic elementary school teacher who behaves without mercy toward the loser men that inevitably become obsessed with her. Louise works in a cafe and is gleefully open to life, is into stuff like shoplifting and dating repentant flashers for their personalities. Donna’s coltish narcissism gets her into plentiful scrapes, like inadvertently quoting Hitler in the conference room of a company that knows better (so, probably not Facebook), and, of course, the perennial one of having friends who are too cool for her.
Sex and the City would be an obvious influence or corollary since Pulling premiered two years after its conclusion and its three protagonists are single white women on the edge of 30 (plus, arguably, Carl, sweet Carl, who lives the life Mr. Big deserves). But here there’s no omniscience, no “I couldn’t help but wonder.” The leads of Pulling experience no qualms about articulating depraved and corrosive truths, nor do they strive to structure their lives as theses, dream boards, or long-distance word play. In this way, the show’s a sort of proto Girls, without self-consciously fashioning itself as groundbreaking, or the emissary of a voice of a generation, although it gestures immodestly at both. Available wherever you can get your hands on it, which is none of the major commercial streaming platforms, at the moment (you can buy it on iTunes?).
— Hannah Gold
The Door, Magda Szabó
Two years ago, after my great aunt Margareta passed away, I received a letter from my grandma. She knew I couldn’t come to the funeral, but asked me to write something to be read aloud during the service. Du är så bra på att sätta ord på känslor i dylika situationer. When her brother passed away a few years earlier, I’d written something very short on my Facebook wall that someone subsequently read at the funeral. We never spoke about it, or really anything else of emotional depth; I’m as intimidated by her today as when she caught me not washing my hands after going to the bathroom at seven, or when she berated me for showing too much skin at fourteen. Her letter made me feel so affirmed by her, like she saw me the way I wanted to be seen. It was also the kind of request that forces you to rise to the occasion no matter how small it makes you feel. Only this time, my youngest brother died shortly after I received her letter and everything was different after that. The letter ended up in a pile, then a folder, then a box. I completely forgot about it until earlier this year, when I read The Door (1987) by Hungarian novelist Magda Szabó.
Whenever I have a ready answer to the question “What’s your favorite book?” it’s because I read something that explained me to myself as I was in that moment, and it touched me as if it were written specifically for me. The Door is that kind of book. It was a gift from a friend, so I read it like a letter from her by proxy. The copy she gave me wasn’t the first she’d bought – the others had already been passed from friend to friend in different cities on the West Coast.
I’m dancing around this book because I don’t know how to describe it to you. The actual Door must under no circumstances be opened. There’s two women: one tells the story, the other you get to know as her housekeeper, but she quickly morphs into someone else, maybe your mother, or grandmother, or yourself. There’s a dog who might as well be the main character. The book recounts their shared story over multiple decades – explicit events, conflicts, and losses – but the actual drama occurs on on a subliminal plane of symbolic gestures, with intricate characters such as vulnerability and pride, the monumental force of kindness. Between the two women, demanding synchronicity, telekinesis, or telepathy falls within the realm of normal expectations; but demanding biographical details, like when and where you were born, can be an unforgivable offense.
Why is it so much harder to bare ourselves for those who love us most? Is it because relationships are not transactional, that they contradict every acceptable notion of individuality, and truth, and sense? Boundaries blur as we fuse. Consciousness isn’t confined within our bony skulls, whatever physicists and biologists say (now, anyways). To let someone in is to give oneself away, to give up control of one’s future, not because you don’t know what the other person will do but because you don’t know what you will do; all the coordinates shift position, and together you’re as lost as each of you were by yourself, except your old coping mechanisms have expired.
I wanted to take photos of so many pages and send them to friends but I also didn’t want to spoil it, knowing I’d rather just send them the book. Besides, I didn’t want to throw their whole day off. This book sometimes did that for me, but it never felt like a waste.
— Hanna Hurr
A Handbook of Disappointed Fate, Anne Boyer
I tried to read Anne Boyer’s A Handbook of Disappointed Fate in as many places as possible. Boyer’s fragmented yet fluid essays and parables rebel in their meticulous dissolution against everything you see, so you want to see more, with her book as an aid. I read it in my bed, of course, and in a few gardens, perched upon the last and lightest spring jackets at a house party, in a bar bathroom. I finished it on an C train ride to the apartment on Central Park West my grandmother is confined to, not because she is particularly sick with something, but she’ll be 90 in a few months and has a strong tendency toward angry, depressive flare-ups, pushing all who care for her to the side, always keeping her guard way up. She’s twice divorced, and if she opens up at all, at least to me, it tends to be so she can speak sparingly, with a gregarious wish in her eyes, about her former husbands or lovers. She can’t see what’s right in front of her anymore, or remember what she just said half the time, but she still listens to the radio, and has taken to pronouncing “Comey" as “Comé.” Her unexamined, revanchist love of bourgeois French shit has remained sterling.
So much of Boyer’s book touches upon the ways capital, the law, and the law’s enforcement leech from and break the lives of women, the sick, the poor. (She writes, for instance, in an essay on living in Kansas City that she was working at a shelter at the time and “thinking the only possible life was a life of politics, and the only possible politics was a politics of women and children and the poor.”) Much of the book didn’t cause me to think of my grandmother at all. I grew up intimidated by her fortress-like bearing, her staunch disapproval of my fork-wrangling methods and, indeed, everything and everyone. As I got older, though I began to see her less one-dimensionally, I also recognized in myself a growing realization and resentment of how made-of-money she seemed at times, as if replaced, cell by cell, by a bitter trail of circumscribed transactions. There, was, however, this one line that stayed with me, from the final, freshest tale in the book, “Death of the Maiden,” which goes like this: “How many times must Violetta die like this? In how many cities? How many stages? In how many beds, wearing how many nightgowns, in the arms of how many blandly talented men?”
A Handbook of Disappointed Fate wanders with abandon, touching upon so much of life in its mischievous, generous spirit. Its tendency is to fill any room with questions. It’s visionary, and begins with a gorgeous essay on the politics of refusal. The funniest piece, “Difficult Ways to Publish Poetry,” highlights the absurdity of using all the materials of life for one’s art, and encourages that alchemy anew. My favorite essay, “How to Go From,” ends twice on the same note but at different frequencies; one resonated with me in particular:
“The shell of what actually is never worked anyway, not for most of the people in this time or previous times who lived on the surface of the city or in the vast wilds. The blocks and streets and squares bossed them around. The seasons did. The bosses did, too. What had been made for us to live in weren’t places for us to live, not really, not in the ‘life’ sense of he word. No one ever did anything in a state called ‘freely.’ Think of how empty that there are adverbs like that. Think of how empty that you once wrote in them.”
To be more precise about where I finished reading the book, it was at Lafayette, and a few stops later a man boiling over with itinerant rage got on and quickly began screaming at me that I was a whore, that I was good at it since I made a lot of money, and of course he didn’t mean that as a compliment, because next he was threatening my life. I got off as soon as it was possible, without a word. So, as fate would have it, this experience had settled in my blood too by the time I arrived, half an hour later, at my grandmother’s apartment, at the bedside of The Queen. In the interminable distance from the subway to her oceanic mattress I thought of all the people I’ve ever known who decided they wouldn’t feel pain, because pain was simple, but they felt it anyway. We talked about my work, and she asked me if I was happy, which she always does – but then she asked me if I was sad, which she never had before. I felt momentarily like I was talking to a child begging me to see an R-rated movie with her, and also as if that child was me. I told her that sometimes I’m sad. She asked why I was sad. I told her that sometimes I can get very lonely. She kept her mouth open to this statement, suspended in a kind of pleasant shock, then with modest ceremony muttered “I feel lonely, too. I don’t think I’ve told that to anyone before.”
And then she forgot she said it. I know because my mom called her up a few hours later, by which time she’d forgotten I’d visited her at all. She said, “Oh. Don’t tell Hannah.”
— Hannah Gold