How to Spot Tyrants: A Literary Guide

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We live in dark times. America’s President-elect is busy appointing a group of dangerous right-wing ideologues to his administration. Meanwhile, right wing populist parties are on the rise across Europe, and already in power in Hungary and Poland, and may soon be in power in France. WTF.

There are multiple reasons for the crisis facing western democracy, but not least among them is our catastrophic failure to learn from history. We may live in the information age, but people spend less time reading books than they do absorbed in social media where facts are disposable, and truth can be anything you want it to be. Books are our greatest defense against ignorance.

To quote the great Fran Lebowitz: “Think before you speak. Read before you think.” To get you started we invited the journalist and LGBT activist, Masha Gessen, author of The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, to put together a list of ten books that explore the meaning of dictatorships and the consequences of autocratic rule.

  • Best known for her 1963 book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, in which she coined the term “the banality of evil,” Arendt’s earlier book, from 1951, has become one of the most influential studies of totalitarian ideas and regimes on either side of the political divide, illuminating the shared characteristics of Nazism and Communism.
  • For the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, the Holocaust was not simply the most grotesque of a litany of grotesqueries committed upon the Jews, but a direct consequence of the modern world itself. Far from modern life being in opposition to barbarity, Bauman argues that it enables it.
  • Freedom is not easy—it comes with dangers and responsibilities. In this classic text, Erich Fromm argues that if we cannot find a way to live the complexities of freedom, humanity will turn to authoritarianism. As part of his analysis, Fromm addresses many issues pertinent to contemporary life: the coercion to conform, the desire to be a part of “something greater,” the loss of authentic thought and action all emerge as consequences of what he describes as an escape from freedom.
  • Vaclav Havel is one of the great heroes of the 20th century, a playwright and towering intellect frequently jailed for his involvement in dissident organizations like Charter 77, who wrought change by simply deciding to act as if Communist Czechoslovakia was a free society. Among the arguments he posited in this extensive essay was that by “living in truth” in their daily lives, people could differentiate themselves from the officially mandated culture prescribed by the State since power depends on submission to succeed.
  • An extraordinary document of life under the Nazis, Victor Klemperer’s diaries weave details of his life in 1930s Germany into a powerful indictment of a state moving ineluctably along the road of tyranny. The son of a rabbi, Klemperer converted to Protestantism in his twenties but was still forced to endure the deprivations and humiliations of German Jews. He survived the war thanks to his wife’s “racial purity” and lived in east Germany, working in Dresden as a professor in Romance languages until his death in 1960.
  • Of all the chroniclers of the Nazi genocide, few are as lucid and as clear-eyed as Primo Levi, an Italian chemist who was transported to Auschwitz and miraculously survived to tell the tale. Best known for his extraordinary biography, If This is a Man (known in the U.S. by the less enigmatic title, Survival in Auschwitz), Levi’s last published work before his suicide in 1987 is a powerful meditation on the culture and mindset of both the operators and the victims of the extermination camps.
  • A passionate activist for social justice, and a fierce critic of the Vietnam war, Robert Lifton’s specialty is the relationship between psychology and violence, Lifton was particularly interested in the process of “psychic numbing,” whereby some people become insensible to the pain of others. It is, in essence, how bad people are able to get away with bad things.
  • Wilhelm Reich, the Austrian psychoanalyst famous for promoting sexual liberation—and later imprisoned in the U.S.—published this book in 1933, long before Hitler unleashed his Final Solution. His analysis of how the National Socialists came to power in Germany broadens into a stunning critique of modern society, and the devastating implications of our attitudes towards sex, religion, the family, and the state. 
  • Published in English 1924, and the first novel to be banned by the Soviet Censorship Board, Yevgeny Zamyatin's We is a dystopian novel about a future nation constructed almost entirely of glass in order to aid mass surveillance. Said to have influenced both Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984, We imagines a world in which freedom and happiness are incompatible. He writes, “A man is like a novel: until the very last page you don't know how it will end. Otherwise it wouldn't even be worth reading.”
  • Marie Vassiltchikov was a white Russian princess with a front row seat of the Nazi war machine, in large part due to her roles as secretary to Adam von Trott, mastermind of the unsuccessful 20th of July plot to assassinate Hitler.

Meet the Mind (and Watercolors) Behind ‘Bojack Horseman’s’ Animal People

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Cover illustration by Lisa Hanawalt.

Lisa Hanawalt’s childhood doodles have morphed into one of the most popular, critically-acclaimed smash hits in Hollywood.

The comic artist, illustrator, and published author (most recently of the food-themed art book Hot Dog Taste Test) now serves as Production Designer for Netflix’s “Bojack Horseman.” But she never intended to get into the TV business at all.

The California native hunched over notebooks all through school, doodling animal-human hybrids in patterned sweaters for as long as she can remember, much to the chagrin of her teachers. It was through high school theater that she met Raphael Bob-Waksberg, who would go on to pitch, create, and executive producer the massively successful show about a horse-human who’s past his celebrity prime. Flipping through sketchbooks during downtime at rehearsal, Hanawalt and Bob-Waksberg invented stories for the characters living on each page.

“I found some of my old sketchbooks, and in them I’m basically drawing the same stuff I do today,” she explains, chortling at her own predictability. “There’s cat people, and horse people, and they’re having relationships. I was really into this one character I made up that’s a cat with a guitar, based on Weird Al Yankovic, because I thought he was the coolest person. I wanted to be him. But a cat.”

After attending UCLA for visual art she began to do portraits of people’s pets for $20, or else just a case of beer. It was these portraits that Bob-Waksberg would later staple to his pitch for “Bojack,” eventually steering both his and Hanawalt’s lives in a completely new direction. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

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Selection from Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt.

Hanawalt soon found herself in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, working as an illustrator and cartoonist, writing and illustrating a food column for Lucky Peach magazine, getting her work into such niche publications as The New York Times, and having her first anthology, My Dirty Dumb Eyes, published through Drawn and Quarterly in 2013. She was also a member of an all-female comic’s studioPizza Island: “It was awesome. We didn’t collaborate on anything, but it’s kind of cool to be next to each other and complain about things. About dudes treating us badly. That solidarity.”

“The feeling of space in New York is very different, almost claustrophobic,” she explains. “Being down in the subways is very new to me. It’s very frightening and loud, and I felt a bit trapped. So I immediately made a lot of artwork about the subway, and how nightmarish it can be.”

She wouldn’t have to deal with the train for long thanks to her friend Raphael, who sold his show, and her drawings, to Netflix in 2013, and pleaded with her to come on as Production Designer, bringing her vision to an entire world of televised animal-people. With no animation background whatsoever, she nervously took the job.

“I had to figure out how to adjust my designs a little bit to work better for animation. It’s so different from what I do in my solo work, because every decision I make on this show is going to impact the lives of 40 different people, at least. Actually more like 100, because there’s animators in Korea, too, who work on the show. So if I make complicated patterns on the arms and legs, I’m going to hear it. People are going to be mad at me. Sometimes I do it anyway.”

Hanawalt’s sensibility quickly proved to be exactly what the show needed – every visual gag, every silly t-shirt, or background painting, or poster, or menu – it all comes from her and her team. The subtle wordplay and visual nods to the animal-human hybrid universe of the show are easily one of its best features, and a main talking point in glowing reviews from top publications like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. 

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Selection from Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt.

Some of Hanawalt’s favorite creations in the Bojack universe: “I really like the manatees. I like Sextina Aquafina. The whale strippers. I guess I like the aquatic ones best.” 

In episode 4 of the show’s latest season, a silent short film unfolds underwater, where we see an entirely different habitat for the stars and wannabes of Hollywoo (the show’s name for Hollywood).

“Oh god, that episode was so fun, and I kept trying to cram more stuff in there. I was like, ‘We need a jellyfish lady!’ We only see her briefly, but, man, she’s important.”

Since starting her own Hollywood career, the admittedly anxious artist has been forced again and again out of her comfort zone. In addition to working on the show, she directed, animated, and edited a stunning music video for Tegan and Sara and published Hot Dog Taste Test, a hysterical, absurd, gorgeous collection of some of her favorite pieces.

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Selection from Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt.

“The book’s hard to explain if you aren’t looking at it, which I think is true of a lot of my work. It’s like a one woman anthology. There’s a collection of food-related essays and comics, but then you also find comics about birds. And autobiographical work. I think it’s good if you are a funny, silly person who also has feelings.”

Taste Test flips from pages detailing chicken vaginas to raw, emotional confessions about deaths, fears, and embarrassments in Hanawalt’s real life. It’s this combination of goofiness and vulnerability that reminds me so much of Bojack.

Hanawalt gave a talk at the XOXO Festival in Portland in 2015. For someone who’s explained she feels weird talking about herself and her work, it’s perhaps the greatest test of her nerve thus far.

“I was really nervous about doing it, and I didn’t want to. But I’m glad I did because I think it resonated with a lot of people, and their own issues with anxiety and creativity. So I’m happy it helped some people, and made them feel less alone. That’s the problem with anxiety, is it’s very isolating and you feel like a fucking weirdo. But basically everyone I know has panic attacks, so it’s very cathartic to be able to talk about it openly.”

When I ask her about which character she identifies with most on Bojack, she muses, “Maybe a mix of Diane and Princess Carolyn? I am ambitious like them, but Diane can be a little up her own ass, in a way I’m hopefully not.”

Ambitious she certainly is. The artist hopes to direct more music videos, dabble in video game design, and even pen a graphic novel. But she doesn’t link career achievement to personal joy.

“I’m very happy with what I’ve done so far, and there’s other things I want to do, but they’re not things I have to do to be happy. I want to keep working, and I want to make work that people like, and that’s really all I care about. So I don’t care if what I do in the future is hugely popular, or just reaches a few people. I’m just going to keep at it.”

Hot Dog Taste Test is in bookstores now.

New “Harry Potter” is Series’ Last Says Rowling

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This Saturday, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” the two-part play written by J.K. Rowling that picks up Harry’s story as an adult, premiered to rave review on London’s West End, as well as being released in script form in bookstores around the world. The author told Reuters that this would be the true final chapter of the epic wizarding series.

“He goes on a very big journey during these two plays and then, yeah, I think we’re done. This is the next generation, you know,” she said. “I’m thrilled to see it realized so beautifully but, no, Harry is done now.”

The play is being warmly received by audiences and critics alike – Rowling received a standing ovation when the show was over.

A fan told Reuters: “It was magical. I sat on the edge of my seat the whole time. There was a lot to live up to and they did it.”

Rowling wrote the script for “Cursed Child” in collaboration with playwright Jack Thorne. The play is directed by John Tiffany.

Split into two parts that can be seen consecutively in a five-hour saga or separately, “Cursed Child” follows Harry as a tired Ministry of Magic worker in his thirties, raising three children. It’s script is available in bookstores everywhere.

8 of Our Favorite Queer Villains

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Suicide Squad hits theaters next month, and we’re counting on it to deliver on the promise of the trailer: an explosion of screwed up sycophants, and Margot Robbie’s terrifying incarnation of notorious criminal Harley Quinn, who appears as bisexual in the comics.

Queerness has been villainized for decades in popular films, television, and books. Giving children’s antagonists “gay-sounding” or English voices is extremely common, and extremely intentional: think of Scar in The Lion King, or of Jafar in Aladdin.

In his documentary Do I Sound Gay?, filmmaker David Thorpe explains this phenomenon.

“Films need villains,” Thorpe told Vice. “And for a very long time, the effete, aristocratic, effeminate man was the villain.”

The queer villain appears not just in cartoons, but in Hollywood as well – for example, All About Eve’s Addison DeWitt or Norman Bates in Psycho. But why?

“The central subject of a lot of movies is the marriage plot,” explained Thorpe. “Gay men stand outside that agenda—or at least they did…”

Comic books are no exceptions to the historically queer bad guy. Except there, many of our monsters are nuanced, complex… sometimes jumping over to the good side at the last minute. Sometimes going straight for a while. Sometimes remaining to fluid to fit into any real box.

We’ve collected our favorite non-hetero public enemies into one evil list.

Harley Quinn

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Yes, she’s smitten with The Joker’s murderous mug. But Harley Quinn doesn’t reserve her affection for mad men. In Harley Quinn #15 it came out that she had a romantic relationship with fellow super villain Poison Ivy.

Pied Piper

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The Piper first shows up in The Flash Volume 1, #106, as a creepy bad guy in a green cloak, but it’s not until later on, when he’s turned to good, that we find out he’s gay.

Raoul Silva

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Javier Bardem’s toothless terrorist role in Skyfall was incredibly frightening, and showed a complex character that had gone from MI6 darling to trigger happy hacker boss. But what made him most interesting was his subtle coming on to James Bond during an interrogation in the film.

Daken

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Wolverine’s son Daken is certainly a real sight to behold, with that unabashedly unironic shoulder tattoo and daring undercut. His superpower? He can release pheromones to make anyone fall in love with him. And you thought you could never love someone with a mullet.

Cruella De Ville

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Yes, we know she’s not gay. But her spotted coats are so fabulous and she’s so dang evil. Plus, drag queens the world over have modeled their style on her. So she’s in.

Hooded Justice

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He’s got the monstrous body of a wrestler and he wears a black cloak and a noose. Not exactly the most inviting of the Watchmen crew, but definitely one of the gayest – part of his character bio is he’s likes having “rough sex with young men.”

Dandy Mott

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He wasn’t gay, but he played gay in order to kill prostitutes. And he became something of a gay sex symbol by the time his season of American Horror Story was over. And sometimes that’s enough to get on a list of gay villains.

Catwoman

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Everyone’s favorite lady in leather was revealed to be bisexual in Catwoman #39. Our favorite version of her is still Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises. We don’t care if her Oscars speech was annoying. We! Love! Anne!

 

RJ Hernández Releases Fashion Film, Discusses Fabulous New Novel

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Illustration by Hilton Dresden

RJ Hernández’s debut novel, An Innocent Fashion, is set in a Devil Wears Prada-esque world, complete with cold-blooded editors and five thousand dollar heels. As the book hits stores, trailed by rave reviews from publications like The Washington Post and Bullett, Hernández has wowed us yet again with a short fashion film to accompany the grand release. Take a look.

Told from the point of view of Cuban-American, sexually fluid Yale grad Ethan St. James, the book is a haunting exploration of personal style, class divisions, and mental health saturated in the sensual imagery of New York’s ritziest nightclubs and unabashed personal vanity.

An Innocent Fashion is a triumphant nose dive into the stormy mind of a depressive Ivy League grad with the world seemingly at his fingertips, but who ultimately feels the crushing, all-consuming loneliness unique to a broke twentysomething trying to make it in New York. It provides us a complex, interesting hero of non-normative race and sexuality without making that the point. And, ultimately, it argues and concludes that having a sense of style does not a vapid airhead make.

We caught up with Hernández to discuss the themes of style, race, and class that have not only informed his novel, but also his life.

What drew you to writing about the fashion world?

RJ: I do take beauty very seriously. Being the kind of person who cares about appearances, you’re put into this category that is often true—lots of people who care about appearances are superficial, two dimensional people. And that’s reality. Or there are people who are just more interested in the sensual world than other people, and derive a lot of pleasure from not merely going about life as a robot but truly looking. As someone who just likes to look at new things, and find new places for my eye to wander, I take issue with the idea that that makes me superficial. I think a person who dresses well and has a sense of style is proposing ideas through the visual medium of their body. To wear something that is truly stylish is to propose an idea to the world that’s interesting. And maybe not necessarily beautiful in an obvious way.

One of the best parts of the novel is it’s prose—the flowery, complex sentences through which it’s told. 

Hernández: It’s on an unusual spot on the spectrum of commercial to literary. But I think this book has a strong commercial allure, in this high fashion world, but is told in a way for a person who just appreciates words and wants to get lost in the language. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say a thing. The style is as important as the product.

St. James is a character who deals with a complicated intersection of sexual, racial, and economic class divisions over the course of the book. Were you writing from personal experience as you created him?

Hernández: I wrote the book mostly as a form of therapy for myself. So it started out as very personal, very close to what it was that I was going through. When I started flushing it out into a fiction, I needed to create some distance between myself and the character, between my world and the character’s world. A big takeaway is class as the ultimate divider of humans. How people of different classes could be friends in a space like college, but simply couldn’t outside of it. And that’s a problem that Ethan immediately faces upon graduation, that his best friends in this space, Yale, simply cannot be his friends in the same way, because the world doesn’t operate on the same terms.

Specifically racially, did you find a parallel struggle between yourself and Ethan?

Hernández: Ethan definitely associates that sense of stagnancy in his childhood with his racial identity. The American dream is always aligned with images of whiteness. The first thing someone does when trying to be a thing is to look like a thing. And so there’s this “fake it ‘til you make it” idea, but more profound. He changes his name, and it’s like trying to change his skin, basically.

A major theme in the novel is the notion of pretending to be something by imitating its appearance.

Hernández: Growing up I didn’t have the idea that I could still be myself and identify with my racial background and heritage, and have that be compatible with this aspirational version of myself. A somebody couldn’t be a person of color.

Do you still feel that way? The more Cuban you are the less advantages you have?

I think everybody’s background does have a huge impact on how far they are able to go in life. Somebody born with huge potential and advantages will be able to go really far. Whereas somebody colored born with the same potential will have to work twice as hard to get a fraction of where another person will. Seeing other people get where you want to be who don’t have the passion of conviction about certain ideas but can get there because…

They’re white. Or they’re rich.

Because of factors out of your control.

But you have come from a lot of disadvantage. You’re still here. You’re being published by Harper Collins. Did you feel like you worked five times as hard as any white author would have had to?

I feel like all my life I’ve had ideas that I’m only now realizing. I’ve had books and ideas in me for years. Part of wanting to do anything in the world has to do with not having. Lack of something is the greatest motivator. In my case not having certain opportunities made me want to get them.

While the book focuses on a sexually fluid character, it’s not being marketed as a “gay” book. What’s been your experience with sexuality, and writing about a sexually ambiguous character?

Hernández: Most of my relationships are gay, but I’d like to think of myself as emotionally and sexually capable of loving anybody. I’d like to think I’m the kind of person who can appreciate someone for more than being a man or woman. The idea that people who don’t identify with queer could pick up this book, that it’s being marketed as just a work of literature, is important. We should be allowed to and encouraged to tell stories, not because we need to tell specifically gay stories. I think there’s a place for that, but any straight-identifying person should be able to read a story with gay characters, the way a gay person can appreciate a story with straight characters.

 

Exclusive: Phoebe Dahl on Roald Dahl’s Legacy

Phoebe and Roald Dahl
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With the centenary of his birth being celebrated on September 13, and his classic children’s novel, The BFG, hitting the big screen this weekend in a handsome revival starring Mark Rylance and directed by grown-up kid Steven Spielberg, Roald Dahl has never been more celebrated. His stories are a part of our common cultural language, household names and images that resonate into adulthood. We chatted with Dahl’s granddaughter, Phoebe Dahl, about her grandfather’s cultural impact and asked her to pick her own favorite story from his massive body of work.

As a Dahl whose grandfather wrote these wonderful books, why do you think they transcend time?

He wrote about magical, mystical characters like witches and giants which have been fascinating to us and our children for hundreds of years; their existence transcends our own existence and this will always be fascinating to children and adults alike. We like to believe that there is magic out there to keep us going – Dahl’s stories merge the normal with the paranormal in a way that pulls you in and makes you feel like it could happen to you at anytime.

What is it about these stories that makes them work and that resonates with so many different people across different generations?

Roald Dahl appeals to such a broad range of ages as he himself was so young at heart and so playful in his soul. He writes about the good and the extraordinary and sprinkles in some darker elements, which both adults and children strongly identify with.

Roald Dahl was one of the first writers who didn’t patronize his readers, and liked to explore the dark as well as the light.  Why do you think he had this ability to talk to readers as an equal?

His compassion for children and the underdog are absolutely equal which is rarely seen in fiction. You get to see into the life of the antagonist, see why they are evil and where it came from, but in doing so, understanding that they were not always evil. You’re shown how to have compassion for evil, by seeing how certain events in their life brought them to evil – which is a strong message for children, and adults – to have compassion and understanding for all.

What is it about your grandfather that led him to treat young readers with such respect?

He had the sense of humor of a child, the same child-like wonder and curiosity for life – this is why he was able to communicate and connect with children. He was a child at heart filled with love and warmth.

He was always inventing things and chasing hot air balloons and flying kites with 50-foot tails – everything was great fun for him.

What are your favorite Roald Dahl bookse?

I loved The Twits – I like a bit of trickery and mischief!!

Did you have a go-to Roald Dahl book as a child?

The Minpins was always our bedtime story – it was such a nice tale to bring you into the depths of dreamland. Fairies, forests and magic. I always imagined myself as one of the Minimins, high up in the trees, nestled away in my own little treehouse.

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What is it about Roald Dahl’s storytelling that has created this enduring power?

I am incredibly proud, and love to see his legacy carry on through generations. The stories are magic; they make you believe in something bigger than yourself; they transport you to a land that you only get to visit in your dreams; they introduce you to friends and confidants that you spend a lifetime looking for; and also feature fear and heartbreak that is not so easy to recover from. To feel these emotions and be transported from your day, if only for 15 minutes, is a treat. Sitting through a feature length movie of these emotions where you get to watch everything come to life is absolute bliss.  In cinematic terms, he wrote in very broad sweeps which translate beautifully as timeless and placeless which are perfect for reinventing a story for the purpose of filmmaking. The timeless theme of good triumphing bad never gets old.

The BFG is in theaters tomorrow.

Read an Exclusive Excerpt from Ioannis Pappos’ Harrowing Debut Novel, ‘Hotel Living’

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Set between 9/11 and the Financial collapse of 2008, Ioannis Pappos’ debut novel, Hotel Living, paints a portrait of privilege and aspiration in a time of turmoil. The author studies identity, loneliness and human connections through Greek protagonist Stathis Rakis’ story, outlining a lifestyle of unsatisfactory, uninhibited indulgence—that can range from substances to insider trading—in an world that views Rakis as a perpetual outsider—”too foreign to be one of them, too cynical to turn back.”

A finalist for Lambda and Edmund White Debut Fiction awards, Hotel Living has been compared to The Wolf of Wall Street with its excessive storyline, and A Single Man with sensitive, drifting narrator. Read a BlackBook exclusive excerpt of Pappos’ breakout novel, below.


The Friday before Chrismas I walked into the Washington headquarters of Command for my final round of interviews. I was confident, smart. I nailed case studies and personality tests, thinking of my Christmas break with Erik in Bequia— “pronounced Beck-Way,” he’d warned in his e-mail. By four p.m. I knew that Command would make me an offer. At six the next morning, I was on a two-stopover-flight-and-one- boat-ride journey to the Caribbean.
That evening I saw the island of Bequia, black, getting larger, from the deck of the ferry I’d boarded on St. Vincent. The lights of Port Elizabeth sparkled as we headed straight toward them, at the southern end of the Caribbean. There was something familiar and definitive about our ride, the way the ferries cruised confidently into the port of Trikeri in Greece, sliding between adjacent fishing boats like they didn’t exist or matter, or simply knew their exact place in a routine-reassured coexistence. I couldn’t remember the last time I was more tired, jet-lagged, and happy.
Erik was leaning on a semirusted Toyota truck that looked like those death traps I used to drive around in Pelio. He was parked twenty feet from the ferry, radio on, driver’s door wide open. He was tan, in a T-shirt and jeans. Barefoot.
“Hey, Feta!” Erik yelled. “Kalos irthes.”
“I thought I was your only coach in Greek,” I said with a grin.
He mussed my hair and pushed my head back. “The last one didn’t have a garment bag. So you must be better.”
“Did he wear shoes?” I couldn’t stop smiling.
“Careful. I’ll put you in the back, and it’s a bumpy ride to the lodge.”
Warm wind hit our faces as Erik drove past the port. The sea, all dark, was eight feet from my right, often less, as Erik strayed to avoid potholes, dogs, and large spiders. I was half- asleep when we arrived at Moonhole, on the very west end of the island. The truck’s radio played Joy Division as we walked into a log cabin and collapsed in the dark.
The next morning I woke up alone, in a room within nature. There was no glass in the windows, nor a door separating the room from the patio, just holes in stone walls. Tree roots surfaced in the middle of the floor, and a bird’s nest clung to a round opening in the ceiling. Still in bed, I pulled my flight itinerary from under my sneakers. Erik’s handwritten note on it said: “Sleepy Greek, welcome to the Arch! There’s coffee. Ask Jeevan down the steps if you need anything. Back at noon. E.”
I couldn’t really make sense of where I was, this unfinished, deserted, 1960s James Bond–meets–National Geographic eco-cabin. What arch?
I needed coffee badly. I walked out onto the patio and forgot about it. Loud birds circled in the sky. Below me, in front of me, everywhere, the big blue ocean spread out. To my right were rocks, with trees bulging above and between them. To my left were more cabins made of gray stone and mortar, arranged at different levels among the land formations. Their walls had no corners or edges, just sweeping forms, as if extensions of the hill. A chill—less of a where-am-I, more of a when-am-I—ran through me.
I spent my mornings smoking, having “breakfast” with Jeevan, and swimming off deserted cliffs at Moonhole. When the sun settled good and the sea stopped changing colors, I’d have a siesta. In the afternoon I would join Erik and his young local friends in saving baby turtles from “evil, bloody birds” at the turtle sanctuary in Park Bay. We weighed and fed the turtles, checked for trauma from birds, and moved them around the shallow nursing pools, following the park custodian’s assessments on the turtles’ “preferences and well-being.” It was a skill I couldn’t crack; as if one needed some tuning-in, some leveling with the silent turtles before one got to understand them.
Erik’s entourage got bigger by the day. Kids kept showing up out of nowhere, while I couldn’t work out how these ten-year-olds made it from Port Elizabeth to the turtle sanctuary with no bus, cars, or bikes in sight. When I asked, they’d just shrug. I tried to explain what I saw by a bay of a small island without letting go of rationality; my Greek rural instincts failing me. I went as far as conceptualizing an HBR case study around them, hypothesizing on the kids’ timely appearances and disappearances, hoping to explain this mystery with a b-school operations principle that I thought I must be missing. They were unguarded, ubiquitous, screaming little monsters, splashing into the three-foot-deep pools, weight lifting the turtles, even throwing them to one another, ready to drop everything for a game of soccer on the beach. But the turtles were oblivious to their yells. They didn’t swim away, hide, or bite, adding to my Cartesian angst, which had been making me a touch less Greek every day since I left home a decade ago.

Remembering Harper Lee: The American Author’s Most Memorable Quotes

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Photo via NPR

Harper Lee, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird, passed away today at age 89 in her Alabama native, leaving behind a legacy of tolerance that still rings with relevancy today. Her beloved 1960 debut novel centered on challenging issues, like rape and racism, inspired by the injustices Lee witnessed firsthand as a child. After decades of silence and ensuring she’d never release another book, Lee finally published her highly anticipated follow-up, Go Set a Watchman, in 2015, which was met with mixed reviews.

In remembrance of Lee’s literary import, we’ve selected a few of our favorite quotes, all highlighting just how wise and empathic the late novelist really was. Write any number of these on a post-it, slap it on your office desk and greatly improve your mediocre day.

“Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”

“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

“Many receive advice, only the wise profit from it.”

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”

“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”

We Won’t Let ‘Go Set a Watchman’ Ruin ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ — Here’s What Made the First Book So Great (and the Second One So Bad)

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The journey of To Kill a Mockingbird’s sequel Go Set a Watchman from lost Harper Lee manuscript to bookstore shelves is a hazy, controversial path that’s been the subject of much ado. Eyebrows started to raise when the fishy origin story was revealed and have stayed arched through the first chapter being made available online last week and the revealing plot twist that the sage activist lawyer Atticus Finch turns out to be a racist who’s attended Ku Klux Klan meetings. Watchman was released today and though its book sales are the last of its problems — anyone who so much as showed up in a high school English class with a curious mind will crack it open — early reviews are not great.

Like too many sequels that don’t live up to the first, the story of Go Set a Watchman is proof that too much of a good thing can make you sick — the good thing being the story of the Finch family. NPR referred to the book as a “mess,” saying that it reads like a “failed sequel,” while Michiko Kakutani couldn’t get over Atticus’ bigotry and dedicated her New York Times review to emphasizing the bipolar contrasts between the two books. Time perhaps gave the most blunt review yet, describing the book as an alienating read whose success is “nearly impossible and rather pointless to evaluate.”

The general consensus is that Watchman is a bad nightmare that will leave readers dispirited and disturbed — the exact opposite of how Mockingbird made us feel. It’s almost scary how the main theme of Mockingbird, the loss of innocence, is turned on its head in the sequel. Scout, who has grown up and presumably lost her choppy bob along the way, is now called Jean Louise, and her peers — her brother Jem and the Truman Capote-inspired Dill — are long gone. She no longer sees her father as a role model and is instead distressed by his political and social views. Watchman says goodbye to all that made Mockingbird a heroic tale, but we won’t let it tarnish the beloved classic. Here are 10 To Kill a Mockingbird quotes that made us want more of the classic in the first place.

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1. “You never really understand a person until you consider his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around it.” – Atticus

2. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” – Miss Maudie

3. “It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.” – Scout

4. “I do my best to love everybody.” – Atticus

5. “I asked him to pass the damn ham, please.” – Scout

6. “Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself.” – Atticus

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7. “As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it — whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.” – Atticus

8. “I think there is just one kind of folk. Folks.” – Scout

9. “Atticus says you can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.” – Jem

10. “Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” – Atticus