The end of the year brings Hanukkah, Christmas, the stress of finding the perfect New Year’s Eve plans and a barrage of best-of lists. Christmas and Hanukkah are now behind us, and we may not be able to help with the New Year’s plans, but here are a few of the best things we read and saw this year.
Gchat is how we talk now–our lives a connect-the-dots of green, orange, red and gray. A generation of us now finds one another communicating in a new language from behind the gleaming shields of computer screens, becoming experts in the Gchat deadpan (“i think i kind of like drake. is that wrong.”) and in parsing the social nuances of the medium (“oh he just went orange. so i guess he’s really not there?”). The Gchat essay took off this year, with these three–ruminating on the evolution of the Internet chat, the ins and outs of Gchat etiquette and the memory of a deceased lover kept alive by Gchat logs–notably probing both the depths and limitations of the tool.
“The Aquarium” by Aleksandar Hemon, The New Yorker
Aleksandar Hemon’s account (subscription-only, unfortunately) of his nine-month-old daughter succumbing to brain cancer is as it should be: painfully sad, the kind of sad that makes you wonder how anyone can stand it. Dying children in fiction can be a kind of manipulation, often a cue for an emotional response without really earning it; in nonfiction, the weight of truth is nearly too much to bear. But Hemon tells a story you can’t turn away from, one that doesn’t pretend to glean a lesson from his family’s ordeal: “One of the most despicable religious fallacies is that suffering is ennobling—that it is a step on the path to some kind of enlightenment or salvation. Isabel’s suffering and death did nothing for her, or us, or the world. We learned no lessons worth learning; we acquired no experience that could benefit anyone.”
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
It’s about baseball, for God’s sake–not a topic in which the Moment staff is particularly well-versed. You want to know the best Dylan album? No problem. (Blood on the Tracks, in the not-so-humble opinion of this writer.) Which Israeli television show to watch? Gotcha covered. (Srugim, duh, have you seen Breger’s blog? Check those comments! She’s famous.) But baseball? Oy. It’s a sad day when the writer of this blog post has to be the one to explain that a low ERA is better than a high one. But this book snagged us by combining richly developed characters with some exceptionally lovely writing: “He was five or six, he was cutting pumpkins in the sun with his father. The tiny sere needles of stems bit through his cotton gloves and stung his hands. Still he loved the pumpkins, he could not lift the big ones, and the field all around was autumn brown.”
“You Blow My Mind. Hey, Mickey!” by John Jeremiah Sullivan, The New York Times Magazine
Yeah, yeah, consider us bandwagon-jumpers, but this story of sneaking pot into Disneyworld had us at Lil’ Dog. Sullivan, as everyone knows by now, is an immensely gifted storyteller, with an eye for the perfect detail (“By the time we lurched into our appointed spot in one of the moonscape Disney World lots, gestured toward it by a series of old men, all showing the same drunk-on-power stone-facedness, it was raining too hard to get out of the vehicle”) and a capacity for remarkable imagery (“The camper containing Shell, Trevor, Flora and Lil’ Dog moved south-southeast from Chattanooga. We were converging like lines on a graphing calculator”). To paraphrase Sullivan: the brother is always, always good.
Cormac McCarthy’s stark writing style, full of stoic characters and unadorned sentences, is ripe for parodying. And this blog–which imagines McCarthy writing reviews of Olive Garden, Ikea and the like for Yelp–has McCarthy-mimicry down to an art. Take this faux-review of Berkeley Slow Food mecca Chez Panisse: “His eyes fixed beyond the warm glow of the restaurant to a middle distance known only to him, to a home on a wasted prairie and those men and the outrage he’d born witness to and his promise to them on that day and the years that followed hunting and waiting and one by one he delivered his promise to each of them and with their money he bought this food and this wine and he could taste none of it.” Sometimes the Internet just gets it right.
And finally, this.
Happy new year, everyone!