James and Deborah Fallows with their plane.CreditPenguin Random House
By Marc Lacey
There is no right way to get to know America. I’ve seen patches of it over the years by car, by bicycle, by train, by bus and by foot. All of those modes of transportation have their pluses and minuses. These days, it’s by air that I usually get around, which generally means leaving one metropolis and then arriving in another. One sizable drawback of this approach, of course, is too much interesting countryside is flown over at high altitude, and thus ignored.
by Maria Popova
“Queer, in fact maddening, to think that ‘beauty’ in nature is for us alone: for the human eye alone. Without our consciousness it doesn’t exist,” Joyce Carol Oates wrote in her journal. “All of nature, all of the given ‘world,’ is in fact a work of art. Only the human consciousness can register it.” Four decades earlier, Virginia Woolf had recorded the selfsame sentiment in what remains the most stunning passage from her own journal; four decades later, neuroscientist Christof Koch would echo the sentiment in the unsentimental chamber of science: “Without consciousness there is nothing… Consciousness is the central fact of your life.”
The late writer feared real life was stranger, and more interesting, than fiction could capture, yet his own novels brilliantly pilloried our political absurdities.
By DAVID GREENBERG
he American writer in the middle of the 20th century has his hands full in trying to understand, and then describe, and then make credible much of the American reality,” the novelist Philip Roth wrote in an essay called “Writing American Fiction,” published in Commentary magazine in early 1961. “It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates, and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one’s own meager imagination. The actuality is continually outdoing our talents, and the culture tosses up figures almost daily that are the envy of any novelist.” Name-dropping various 1950s scandal artists, Roth added, “Who, for example, could have invented Charles Van Doren? Roy Cohn and David Schine? Sherman Adams and Bernard Goldfine?”