A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

“Death, fire, and burglary make all men equals.” —Dickens

Category: Culture

At a Paper, a Headline Style

by evanmcmurry

I know NYT headlines are notoriously obtuse, but come on:


That’s a technically accurate description of Gone Girl the way “Retirement, and Now Travel Difficulties” is an accurate description of Lear.

HuffPost Editor Calls You a Liar for Your 10 Novels List

by evanmcmurry

HuffPost tech editor Alexis Kleinman thinks your 10 Novels That Shaped Me lists are bunk:

No, your favorite book is not “The Sound and the Fury.” No, you did not finish “Infinite Jest.” “One Hundred Years Of Solitude”? You read that in 10th grade. I know because I was in that English class with you.

Yeah ok.Tthis is as much categorical error as it is strawman. Here’s Kleinman’s switcheroo:

Sure, we’re calling this “books that changed the way I think” but really it’s just meant to be your favorite books.

No it’s not! Favorite books and books that shaped you/stuck with you certainly can be coincident, but not necessarily. One of the interesting things about the list was that making it forced you to distinguish between books you liked and books that have had an sustained and consequential effect on you. (The Long Goodbye, for instance, would make the former list but got struck from my latter.)

But Kleinman thinks you’re covering up your actual, trashy reading tastes with random selections from Le Canon:

There is nothing wrong with liking popular books. You shouldn’t be ashamed to have read Harry Potter a dozen times. [Ed: nobody is.] Reading is just like anything else: it can be fun and it can be challenging. There shouldn’t be a stigma against fun books. [Ed: there isn’t.] If you’re super picky, remember that fluffy books can be gateways into more serious literature, ya prude.

Per Kleinman, here’s the “real” list you faux-elitists would have written if you’d been telling the truth:

1. Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone
2. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
3. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban
4. The Phantom Tollbooth
5. The Hunger Games
6. Fifty Shades Of Grey
7. Gossip Girl
8. A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One
9. The Lord Of The Rings
10. Where The Sidewalk Ends

Leaving aside that FB published metrics of the lists (they were watching) that revealed that most people did disproportionately list the Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Where the Sidewalk Ends, this misses the entire point of the exercise, which, once again, was not to name the most recent titles you gorged on but works that have stayed with you. 50 Shades of Grey went through a trillion printings, but nobody’s rereading it — just ask the charities overburdened with unwanted copies. The Hunger Games sold like gangbusters, but will anybody still be reaching for it on the shelf in ten years?

The 10-novels lists was a perfect filter for fads; only the books that survived multiple apartment moves made the cut. That’s how One Hundred Years of Solitude ends up on the list and 50 Shades of Grey doesn’t: because you read One Hundred Years of Solitude in 10th grade, and still do.

Not All Honesty Is the Good Kind

by evanmcmurry

Of course, now somebody’s offering Donald Sterling the “Hey, he’s honest about what he believes” off-ramp.

First off, it’s not like Sterling’s comments were made in a press release. More to the point: this brought to mind the infamous “black woman in yoga class” essay. You may recall that some, including the editor that commissioned it, defended that piece by commending the author for her honesty, even bravery, in addressing her own race-based discomfort, even if she did project that discomfort onto the other woman—to which the rest of the world responded “so the eff what?”

In short, it’s good to be occasionally reminded that candor is not always a virtue—or, more specifically, that being true to your beliefs doesn’t necessarily excuse them.

NaNoWriMo to the End of the Line

by evanmcmurry

This is the logical conclusion of NaNoWriMo: a book nobody will read but that makes all the participants feel good about themselves, featuring the most generic, faddish plot possible, and clocking in at three times the length of the prompt, because if the words don’t matter, why not have 80 million of them?

In Which The New Yorker Explains the Joke It’s About to Tell You

by evanmcmurry


The only way it would be better is if it were followed by an 11,000-word piece on the American history of this “humor.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 4.04.19 PM

Can House of Cards be Feminist if it Doesn’t Have a Brain?

by evanmcmurry

Amanda Marcotte may have detected a feminist streak where there is none in House of Cards’ second season, not because the show isn’t that feminist but because it simply isn’t that thoughtful. Consider (blah blah spoiler alert), in discussing Claire’s live-TV admission she’s had an abortion:

Interestingly, no anti-choicers protest or threaten Claire until after the tabloid press starts a rumor that she is an adulteress. This decision on the part of the show ends up driving home the idea that anti-abortion sentiment stems mainly from a desire to control female sexuality.

I’d like to believe that’s true—it would be a powerful and incisive subtext if it were. But that’s assigning the show a political acuity it demonstrates nowhere else. This is a season in which (blah blah spoiler alert) Democrats get a political win by using entitlement reform to save the GOP from shutting down the government, the tea party scores electoral victories through huge political donations rather than scrappy primary sabotages, and Dems try to save their midterm majority by impeaching their own president. What are the odds House of Cards got that basic, CNN-level stuff wrong but nailed the nuances of subterranean culture war motives?

Guy Fieri is Full of It, Slow-Roasted Single Origin Coffee Edition

by evanmcmurry

No one’s surprised that Guy Fieri slapped his frosted tips upon a “rockin” box of coffee called Flavortown (where Smash Mouth plays daily). But do note Flavortown’s entry toll:

A “hand-picked” sampler of sixteen K-cups will set you back $12.95 on Amazon, which puts the flavors — price-wise, anyhow — up there with some single-origin micro-roastery kinds of coffee.

One of those “funky flavors” is the “American Diner Blend,” because nothing says authentic cup of joe like pour-over prices.

This is just your semiannual reminder that Fieri’s “diners, drive-ins and dives” schtick is a bald excuse to jack up the price.