This week, identity is the theme that courses through the posts. Writer Steve Oney talks about masculinity and the creation of identity as an act of will. In South Africa, the women of the District Six neighborhood try to recapture an identity lost to apartheid when they were uprooted and their homes were destroyed. And the writer Alexander Chee tries to escape his writer’s identity when he takes a “real” vacation.
Steve Oney and “A Man’s World” (both the song and his new book). This is one of my favorite Q&As in recent memory. In his 40-year career, Oney has seen men’s roles change, but at heart, the same things hold true. I love this quote from him: “Maybe I read too much Ernest Hemingway in college, but regardless of all the societal transformations, I think men’s lives basically revolve around the concerns he examined in ‘The Sun Also Rises’ and ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’ Life is hard. You do what you can. You pray for happiness. Then it’s over.”
The soundtrack: “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World,” by James Brown. As I said to Steve, asking about the origin of his book’s title, this is a great song that has nonetheless always made me a bit queasy, because it’s a very old-fashioned view of the world. And then there’s his use of the word “girl,” although that must have been for the rhyme. But oh, his voice, especially when he screams, “nothing.”
One Great Sentence
“And one day he made an error, and then struck out, and it sounded like all of Fenway was booing, and he ran to the bench with his head down, the red rising in his face, the shame in his belly, and the rage. Ted thought: These are the ones who cheered, the fans I waved my cap to? Well, never again.”
Richard Ben Cramer, “What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?” Esquire, June 1986. Read why we think it’s great.
In a South African cookbook-memory book, recapturing a life that was lost to apartheid. This South African book is so special, finding a very human way to explore the costs of apartheid and a life lost when a Cape Town neighborhood was uprooted. It’s called “District Six Huis Kombuis: Food and Memory Cookbook,” and it’s a moving multimedia storytelling project that’s part cookbook, part collective memoir and part embroidery project. The gorgeous photo at the top of this post shows Marion Abraham-Welsh, who says: “I never lost the picture of what our home looked like and replicated all the dinnerware in my own home. I’m trying to hold on to that memory.”
The soundtrack: “Vul’indela,” by Brenda Fassie. One of my favorite pop songs. The music is so joyous. I defy you not to dance to this one. The poppiness of the song, though, is in sharp contrast to the tragedy of Fassie’s short life, which somehow heightens the emotion of it.
What I’m reading online: “On a Remote Greek Island, Learning to Take a ‘Real’ Vacation,” by Alexander Chee. This New York Times piece by the writer was pure pleasure, just like Chee’s own vacation. There are so many things that are both useful and beautiful for writers and freelancers here. I love his explanation of why he was taking a real vacation from his freelance life: “But I had come to feel a little like an on-call doctor for patients who would never fully explain themselves to me.”
How about a theme in the online reads this week? Exploring a new world, and maybe exploring yourself. That fits “Terra Nova,” a beautiful essay in Granta by Robert Moor. In it, he hitchhiked across Newfoundland. He describes one of his trips, with “a tattooed, stubble-headed man named Paul” who would “drive with his knees while he rolled a joint; the car filled with a grey air of vague mutual distrust.” Paul tells him something truly lovely: “When he was building a cabinet, he liked to hide cryptic messages on the inside, where no one would ever find them, but he would know they were there. I would come to learn that many carpenters do this. I was pleasantly haunted by the thought that there might be a shadow library of messages hiding behind our walls and inside our furniture – wise and profane words scribbled on the dark, inner, unfinished surfaces of our world.”
What’s on my bedside table: “Mr. Hobbs’ Vacation,” by Edward Streeter. Let’s keep with the summer vacation-road trip vibe with this book, which some of you might know by the movie starring a grumpy, older Jimmy Stewart as the dad. Anyone who has taken a vacation and arrived at a disappointing rental will like this breezy read. It’s a library discard, and I like the “date due” card inside: Starting on May 9, 1958, there’s a flurry of borrowing until October 5, 1962. And then one tiny stamp, circled in red, for August 28, 1986. Poor little book, waiting 2 1/2 decades to be taken out again.
What’s on my turntable: “Nice ‘N’ Easy,” by Frank Sinatra. This seemed to fit both themes going on this week: It’s a perfect soundtrack to a languid summer vacation night, the title track drifting out into the air, almost muffled by the humidity. (And that wonderful rhyme: “The problem now of course is/To simply hold your horses.”) But I was thinking about the categories in Steve Oney’s book: Fighters, Creators, Actors and Desperadoes, and thinking that Sinatra is all of the above.
If you want to chat about storytelling (or music), I’m Storyboard editor Kari Howard, and you can reach me at email@example.com. Or you can find me at @karihow on Twitter.