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Week in the World: Excellent Journalism Edition

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I don’t believe this is a new phenomenon but I’ve noticed an overwhelming amount of quality journalism on the Internet lately. Here are a few pieces that made me think about creative nonfiction, links to more straightforward writing articles, and, of course, television shows and podcasts for when you’re done reading.

CREATIVE NONFICTION
The Food That Ate Manhattan: The Implacable Rise of Frozen Yogurt Leaves Us Cold by Kim Velsey for The New York Observer
Frozen YogurtAnyone who knows me knows about my terrible frozen yogurt habit. I’ve memorized the locations of all the self-serve places below 14th street. I know the Tasti-d-Lites that surround the stores and coffee shops I frequent. I couldn’t go a day without it, or at least not easily. So, when I came across this fantastic article on the rise of frozen yogurt, specifically in New York City, and read its mocking, horrified tone, I was enthralled and wanted to share with everyone I knew.

It was not until one day in Union Square that I realized, in a moment of disquieting clarity, that frozen yogurt shops were everywhere. A Joyride frozen yogurt truck idled by the park, Diet Lite Ice Cream was visible just down 17th Street, and a Yelp search revealed that a Pinkberry, a Tasti D-Lite, a Red Mango, a 16 Handles, a Yoqua Bar and a Yogurberry were all within a five to 10 minute walk. None of which were deemed satisfactory by the friend at my side, who urged us on toward Flavaboom on Sixth Avenue, where one could get the nonfat flavors twisted together and heaped with cheesecake bites and cookie dough.

Nearly skipping with anticipation, she raved about frozen yogurt the whole way there. It was alarming. How could she be so into frozen yogurt? I wondered. How could anyone?

Saying Goodbye to Now by Thomas Beller for the New Yorker’s Culture Desk
CameraThomas Beller is an excellent observer. In this essay he looks at the difference between memories and photographs. At one point he asks, “Are [these memories] any more vivid to me because there are no photographs? Conversely, would photographing have taken me away and made it all less sharp in my mind?” But first he begins:

My daughter was now airborne. A flying monkey coming right at me, headfirst: straw-yellow hair, a blue skirt, blue spaghetti-strap shirt, apple cheeks, and lips garishly smudged with pink lip gloss within which is the whiteness of her bared teeth—

Stop! Right here, let’s freeze the frame. Here is an image that I will never see again, except in my memory. A girl in mid-flight, waves of green behind her, her face all bright with the colors —blue, pink, yellow, white—of joy and delight, and behind her, as though it was the place from which she had fled, an old, dignified mansion.

Right then, as she was airborne, my hand twitched and slapped my pocket, in the dim hope that I could locate my camera, pull it out, and shoot while the moment still held. But there was no camera, and anyway there was no time. I will never forget this image, though I may already be embellishing it. And you will never see it. You may picture it, but the picture itself was not taken. I had to fight off a sadness about this, because the moment, after all, was happening, and it was beautiful, and anything that detracted from my perception of that was a shame.

Deconstructed—Chris Ware’s Innovation by Steve Almond for The New Republic
Steve Almond is one of my favorite contemporary writers. I particularly like his nonfiction and usually find that his essays double as a writing lesson. In this review of Chris Ware’s epic graphic art experiment, Building Stories, Almond teaches us how to write about things of which we have no authority:

Let’s start with my qualifications as a critic of graphic novels: Putting aside an adolescent excursion into a stoner comic strip called the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, I have none. Worse yet, I tend to associate graphic novels with the regressive and haughty wing of hipsterism, the one that favors mope rock and off-brand beers. I guess what I’m getting at here is that I’m a nitwit.

There is no greater evidence of my nitwittedness (currently) than my initial reaction to the new release by the graphic novelist Chris Ware, who I have come to understand is something of a big deal in his field.

While this is totally hilarious, it is also getting at a problem that deserves attention–how do you write about something you haven’t got the slightest clue about? How do you look at a text, a work of art, a film, or listen to a piece of music and judge it, deconstruct it, and put to paper your thoughts and observations without context? Steve Almond breaks the taboo, touts his ignorance, and, inadvertently, champions the amateur.

Four hours with John McAfee by Adam Thomson for The Financial Times
McafeeThis profile of John McAfee, a tech tycoon who went on the lam after his neighbor was murdered, is a story that got really weird, really fast. The first reporting I’d read was in the Financial Times when one of their correspondents met up with him in Belize to write a profile:

There was nothing serene or tranquil about McAfee. As soon as he closed the front door, he ditched the limp and the crippled arm. Then, hands trembling, he reached for one of several cigarette packets lying on the table.”

His distress, and that of Samantha, his feisty 20-year-old Belizean girlfriend – during the interview, she accused me of being scared: “I’m young and smaller than you and I’ve got more balls” – was more than understandable given the saga that their lives had become over the previous few weeks.

Apparently, VICE magazine was there as well and gave away McAfee’s location through an iPhone photo embedded with GPS coordinates. Something McAfee is now suing them for. However, as The New York Times Decoder blog reports:

Within 36 hours, he began an aggressive campaign to court and spin coverage of his story. … Mr. McAfee seemed to understand the dynamics of journalism well enough to know which assertions reporters would pass along without double-checking or qualifying — like his claim that he had eluded the police by burying himself in sand and positioning a box over his head — even as his self-created narrative veered ever further into the surreal.

WRITING and PUBLISHING
How to Write a Book Review from Daily Writing Tips
Why Netflix Makes You a Better Writer on LitReactor
Five Dos and Don’ts for Picking an Editor by Susan J. Morris for Omnivoracious
Should You Spend Money On Publicity & Marketing? by Randy Susan Meyers for Beyond the Margins

TELEVISION and PODCASTS
GirlsFor those of you who don’t have cable, Lena Dunham’s show Girls is now available on DVD. While you’re at it, co-producer Judd Apatow’s show Freaks and Geeks (1999) is streaming on Netflix. And for his latest film, ‘This is 40,’ Apatow has been doing some interviews: The Nerdist with Chris Hardwick and Bullseye with Jesse Thorn.

Now that everyone’s caught up on Mad Men Season 5, you can listen to The Nerdist Writer’s Panel’s “Mad Men season five in review” episode with Creator and showrunner Matthew Weiner, showrunners Andre and Maria Jacquemetton, and writer Erin Levy.

Judd Apatow

Alec Baldwin spoke with Lapham’s Quarterly founder, Lewis Lapham, for his show, Here’s the Thing. Lapham has an excellent gravelly voice that makes his stories and wisdom even better, if that were possible. You can also read an interview Lewis recently conducted with Smithsonian Magazine that I meant to share last week.

To the Best of Our Knowledge spoke with autistic savant Daniel Tammet and it was mesmerizing. Daniel is one of the few people with autism who can express his thought process and explain what he experiences. To hear him tell the interviewer how he thinks was astounding.

Images: Frozen Yogurt Charms; Camera; John McAfee

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Written by Gabrielle

December 18, 2012 at 6:50 am

grape jelly and the wall street journal

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the Wall Street Journal‘s New York section is my guilty pleasure. well aware of their war on the New York Times, i feel a moral obligation to support the latter; so when i grabbed the coffee shop’s communal copy i felt sheepish, as if i were someone in a motel parking lot with a mistress.

i can’t help myself; sometimes, right after skimming the New York Times morning headlines,  i go to the WSJ site to see what they’ve written about new york. what would never be covered by any other serious paper, they write about earnestly; or, what would be reported on seriously elsewhere, they cover with sarcasm.

the article that caught my eye last night was a piece about the prevalence of grape jelly in american cuisine. i swear, i thought i was reading The Onion. in fact, i was so amused, i considered recommending it to my coffee-swilling neighbor but in the end, never got the nerve.

here is a brilliant piece on grape jelly:

Ramsay de Give for The Wall Street Journal

The Great Jelly Mystery
by Ralph Gardner Jr.

The universe yields its mysteries only reluctantly, and one of the most disturbing from my point of view is why diners persist, when you ask for jam, on giving grape jelly instead. One of my rituals when I get back from abroad is to indulge in an all-American diner breakfast: scrambled eggs (soft), bacon (crisp), home fries, buttered toast, coffee and (hopefully) fresh orange juice.

The only downer is the preserves. I have nothing against grape jelly, per se. I realize that if I’m after the authentic patriotic experience, nothing says Stars and Stripes and purple mountains majesty like a gellular blue substance almost completely constructed of artificial colors and flavors and preservatives. Indeed, Jan Morris, the Welsh travel writer, once compared grape jelly to capital punishment, “the worst of American civilization, worse than the electric chair.”

I tend to agree, even though I’ve got a sweet tooth. Several in fact, and all with fillings. At this very moment my bedstand boasts—in addition to the TV remote and a pile of books that would make me a better person for reading but that I probably never will—a box of Good & Plenty, the remnants of a bag of jawbreakers purchased at Dylan’s Candy Bar and a box of Argentine jelly candies that I special-order from my brother, who makes frequent trips down there. I believe that candy, as opposed to chocolate, acts as a digestive before bedtime.

So if anybody was to be receptive to grape jelly, you’d think it would be me. It’s just that it doesn’t taste as if it’s made from anything that grows on this planet. “Sweet purple snot” is the way one gentleman, an otherwise cultivated book publisher, put it when I posed the grape-jelly question at a recent dinner party.

full piece here

Written by Gabrielle

September 18, 2010 at 9:53 am

Posted in food

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the foodist: from manhattan to brooklyn

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shannon, a.k.a the foodist, tells us about the manhattan chefs who are branching out into brooklyn.

chefs moving into brooklyn:
blue ribbon opened a brooklyn restaurant in 2001, which made them one of the first of the manhattan chefs to do so. they have both a regular restaurant and a sushi place on fifth avenue in park slope. shannon says the sushi is a little expensive but that it’s a great place for a date, or, if you feel like splurging on good sushi. special to their brooklyn spot, is their raw bar and wine special. until about 6:30 or 7pm they’ll have $1.50 oysters and $1.00 clams and wine by the glass wine. shannon says, “amazing”.

fatty ‘cue is a southeast asian fusion place that just opened under the williamsburg bridge. it’s owned by the much-loved fatty crab guys. shannon  thinks their red curry duck is the best thing she’s ever eaten and loves that their giant pork ribs look like they’re from the flintstones. she says the cold salads are awesome both for herself and for vegetarian friends and assures people that the cucumber and celery salads are way better than they might sound.

the ox cart tavern is a little ways out in brooklyn but way worth it. you can take the b or q train to newkirk ave. helpful travel tip: bring a book to read on the way. shannon is going there for dinner after our chat and is looking forward to the duck confit pot pie. i thought she’d said ‘duck con feet’ but no, this is some sort of french dish made with the leg of the animal; shannon is hoping it wont have bones but doesnt seem quite sure. also on the menu is fish, chips, and pickles–yes, all on one plate. the chef is aiming for daily specials and a different sort of pie each day. added bonus: they have actual houses in that area of brooklyn, “real suburban-looking houses”.

west village recommendations:
pizza, burgers, cupcakes, and literary bars
shannon says that brooklyn pizzerias are much better than the ones in manhattan but feels that john’s pizzeria holds up. not only is it famous, she says, but the pizza is really good and pretty cheap. another place worth scouting out is lombardi’s, ‘America’s First Pizzeria,’ according to its website. but, if you happen to be in the mood for burgers and fries, the corner bistro is where to go.

if you wind up at the famous magnolia bakery, shannon says to skip the cupcake and go for the banana pudding. but, she suggests, you should go to the lesser-known sweet revenge on carmine instead. somewhat surprisingly,  shannon is not a fan of  cupcakes, but, she loves the signature ‘sweet revenge’. as described on their menu, it’s peanut butter cake with ganache filling with peanut butter fudge frosting. i dont see how you can go wrong with that.

the west village has a “huge, rich history of poets, writers, musicians,” says shannon. if you’re looking for a beer, the white horse tavern is her favorite. she’d worked with a poet who used to drink there and according to one website, it looks like both bob dylan and dylan thomas did too. added bonus: outdoor seating. another good bar where literary authors used to hang out is kettle of fish on christopher street where stonewall used to be. while we dont have a list of famous names on hand, we suggest you look for pictures on the wall when you go to these places.

what’s your favorite brooklyn or west village restaurant?

Written by Gabrielle

September 11, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Posted in food, podcasts

Tagged with , , ,

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