The rise of Roxane Gay. This is a comprehensive look at the writer’s career and fame, but it also includes a lot of heartfelt praise from her friends about her honesty and kindness which makes me think that is the sort of success we might all want to be aiming for.
"There’s precious little solace for this, and zero redress; we will lose everything we love in the end. But why should that matter so much? By definition, we do not live in the end: we live all along the way. The smitten lovers who marvel every day at the miracle of having met each other are right; it is finding that is astonishing. You meet a stranger passing through your town and know within days you will marry her. You lose your job at fifty-five and shock yourself by finding a new calling ten years later. You have a thought and find the words. You face a crisis and find your courage.” When things go missing.
I suppose a new Neil Gaiman book is a given recommendation around these parts, but let’s do this properly. This one departs a little from his other work in that while it’s not exactly nonfiction, neither is it a straightforward novel. Rather, it’s a lyrical, modern retelling of Norse mythology. I love mythology, but my own childhood experience was limited mostly to Greek and Egyptian, so I enjoyed branching out.
"As it turns out, there are often good reasons for being quiet that have nothing to do with fear: allowing depth of thought about and consideration of important topics, providing proper care for anxiety and unruly emotions, enabling deliberate rest and ensuring the right actions to take in the future. Sometimes, it’s also just nice to be quiet. To know peace. To know yourself. Now, being quiet is the best way I can know exactly what it is that I have to say."
This week’s essay look back, apropos of nothing in particular, is on being quiet.
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Notes in the Margins
On favorite places and miniature rooms.
It is true one of my favorite places in the world is the Art Institute of Chicago, but I can be even more precise by choosing one of the museum’s particularly attractive corners—in which case I immediately zero in on the Thorne Miniature Rooms. Located in the basement, next to the photography and the charmingly odd glass paperweight collection, the Thorne Rooms are more or less what they sound like, a series of tiny rooms, furnished and decorated in historically accurate miniature detail. There are sixty-eight of them, representing several different eras from several different countries, set individually into the wall with their fourth walls panes of glass, an invitation for us to come along and peer inside.
I have always been fascinated by miniatures, for no readily apparent reason. Perhaps I don’t need one, because it seems to be a common human impulse. The Thorne Rooms aisles are usually crowded, full of both children and adults looking through the windows into new, tiny worlds. There is the chief draw, maybe. The Thorne Rooms have not just the exquisite detail of their settings, but touches of human life that makes it seem as if you are seeing not a static, shrunken reproduction but, somehow, a real world. Through open doorways you can see glimpses of other rooms, staircases, gardens, landscapes, cityscapes. As if they have a voice to confidently state, we are not just on display for you—we have our own rooms and halls and paths you can’t see. You are allowed to peek, that’s all. Many of the rooms appear as if their inhabitants have just left the room and are apt to wander back in at any moment. Sewing scissors on a workspace, embroidery half-completed. Plates set for dinner. Sheet music ready to be played. Cards dealt out on the table. Dolls and toys left on the kitchen floor. You see not just a place in miniature but a moment. And, despite the range of locations and times presented—from Tudor England to revolutionary France to colonial America to traditional Japan—the moments, stilled in perspective, all seem identically human.
It’s a small, concrete sort of art. It’s not about blatant style or statement. Just people. Crowded around a glass looking into a room, to see past their reflections and discover what’s on the other side.