robertogreco + doreenstfélix   4

Jia Tolentino Wants You to Read Children’s Books - The New York Times
““A really good middle-grade novel,” says the New Yorker essayist, whose debut collection is “Trick Mirror,” “will supersede a lot of contemporary fiction in terms of economy, lucidity and grace.”

What books are on your nightstand?

When I like a book, I carry it around everywhere until I finish it, like a subway rat dragging a slice of pizza down the stairs. So usually if a book is living on my nightstand, it’s not my thing. Right now, though, I’ve got a galley of Anna Wiener’s “Uncanny Valley” keeping me company — it’s so deft and stunning that I started rereading chunks of it as soon as I was done.

What’s the last book that really excited you?

“Death’s End,” the final installment of Liu Cixin’s Three-Body trilogy, in which the narrative and conceptual momentum of the series takes off at a scale and velocity I couldn’t possibly have imagined before reading. The Three-Body trilogy makes insignificance and unknowability and futility seem so spiritually exciting that I felt breathless. I’d join a book club that just discusses it every month for a year.

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

Rebecca Stead’s “When You Reach Me” won the Newbery Medal, so it’s certainly not unheralded, but everyone tunes me out when I recommend it, since it was written for kids. Their mistake! A really good middle-grade novel — and this book, a “Wrinkle in Time”-esque mystery set on the Upper West Side in the late 1970s, is a phenomenal one — will supersede a lot of contemporary fiction in terms of economy, lucidity and grace.

What book should everybody read before the age of 21?

“Random Family,” by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. It’s so spicy, so riveting, so empathetic and devoted, so alive in the world as it actually is. No shots to Chaucer and “A Separate Peace” and all that, but I think a lot of people might be far more interested in reading (and possibly more interested in other lives in general) if they got to read books like this in high school.

What book would you recommend to people over 40?

“Kids These Days,” by Malcolm Harris. Most writing about millennials has tended to focus on effects rather than causes: After all, it’s easier to make a spectacle of the ways instability manifests itself in young people than it is to really reckon with the fact that capitalism has reached a stage of inexorable acceleration that has broken our country’s institutions and (arguably) my generation’s soul. “Kids These Days,” thankfully, goes straight for the point.

[ Tolentino’s new book, “Trick Mirror,” was one of our most anticipated titles of August. See the full list. ]

Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?

Ocean Vuong, Jenny Odell, Doreen St. Félix, Vinson Cunningham, Bryan Washington, Tommy Orange, Jenny Zhang, Ross Gay, Zadie Smith, Rebecca Solnit, Emily Nussbaum, Rebecca Traister, Brit Bennett, Caity Weaver, Rachel Aviv, Kathryn Schulz, Pamela Colloff, Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Patrick Radden Keefe, Patricia Lockwood, Samantha Irby, Leslie Jamison, Lauren Groff, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Wesley Morris, Meg Wolitzer, Marlon James, Ted Chiang, Eula Biss.

You once described yourself as “an obsessive and catholic reader.” What moves you most in a work of literature?

Bravery and surrender, which can manifest in so many forms.

Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?

I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a purely emotional or purely intellectual reaction to anything, let alone to anything I was reading. Systems and concepts are always inextricable from the way they shape our hearts, and I love books that demonstrate this, like Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted,” or George Saunders’s “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.”

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

From Casey Cep’s “Furious Hours,” that Harper Lee was once neighbors with Daryl Hall and John Oates. What?!

Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

I’ll read almost anything, though I don’t love reading about history and science as much as I love whatever I learn. The only books I actively avoid are the “how X explains all of human civilization” books — the type seemingly written for men who love a counterintuitive idea but find complex thought disturbing — as well as those “how to be a perfectly imperfect goddess who doesn’t give a f**k” books. I don’t like anything with a sales pitch that’s like, “Hey, you’re a woman!” These books feel like dolls of Frida Kahlo dressed as Rosie the Riveter or something, like display objects that chirp the word “badass” when you press their hand.

What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?

My boyfriend got me a first edition of Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio” — one of my favorite books of all time — about seven years ago, and this past year, he gave me a copy of “Eve’s Hollywood” with a note in it for me from Eve Babitz herself. I almost keeled over on the spot.

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?

Turtle Wexler from “The Westing Game” and Undine Spragg from “The Custom of the Country.”

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

I would read while Rollerblading around my neighborhood, read while eating, read in the car, read in the bathtub — my books were stained, swollen, ripped to shreds. I was always just desperate to be constantly reading. I’d memorize the copy on the Herbal Essences bottle in the shower; I read “Gone With the Wind” about 20 times in fourth grade. I remember things from kids’ books much more clearly than I remember anything about my life even a few years ago. I’ve got a mental encyclopedia of useless sensory details: the lavender-and-black bathroom in “Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself,” the tin peddler’s wares in “Farmer Boy,” the meals that Francie Nolan helped her mother make from stale bread.

You’re a digital native, and your publisher describes you as “what Susan Sontag would have been like if she had brain damage from the internet.” Do you find it difficult to tune out distractions and sink into a book?

In part because I am very aware of what the internet is doing to my sense of scale and reason, I spend a good amount of my life seeking out states of being — like reading — that are so consuming and pleasurable that I won’t grab my phone and interrupt. It also helps that for most of my life I’ve read a paper book for an hour or two every night before falling asleep: It was always a way of managing my insomnia, which I’ve had since I was little, and is now a regular reminder of how much more like myself I feel when I’m not shattering my attention to bits.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

There are plenty of beloved books I don’t like at all — the most demographically fine-tuned version of this for me is probably Chris Kraus’s “I Love Dick.” But I have a hard time accessing a sense of “supposed to” with pop culture. I read whatever I feel like reading, and if neither the book nor my reaction to it interests me, I put it down without another thought. I’m a big believer, anyway, that reading is like eating: The most fun lies in finding a match for your mood. If I read 20 pages of something people love and I can’t get into it, then I welcome the possibility that a few years from now it could be the perfect thing.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

Nearly everything about being alive feels embarrassing, but the enormous gap between what I’d like to have read and what I have actually read does not. As it is, I read a hundred books a year and it doesn’t seem to matter — there will always be so many books I haven’t read yet, and I will always be kind of stupid no matter how much I read. For example, I only recently realized that when people turn 30 they are completing their 30th year of life rather than beginning it. It’s possible that I’d have grasped that basic fact and many others much earlier if my head weren’t so stuffed with so much minutiae about the Shackleton expedition, so many descriptions of light from James Salter short stories, all these invisible psychosocial landscapes from all these books.

What do you plan to read next?

I’ve got to read the Lydia Davis translation of “Madame Bovary.” I’m having physical cravings for it. If I could stop time right now I’d lie down in the grass somewhere and go straight through from beginning to end.”
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3 days ago by robertogreco
What Do People in Solitary Confinement Want to See? | The New Yorker
“Willie Sterling III imagined this: a line of people, bonded by a belief in his humanity, travelling up a hill in southern Illinois to a cross that sits at its peak. The cross was Bald Knob Cross of Peace, a colossus more than a hundred feet tall. It was made of concrete and varnished with porcelain, and wherever you were, within thousands of miles, you strode in its shadow. Sterling saw his believers huddled at its base, praying for his deliverance from solitary confinement and for him to be granted parole after more than three decades behind bars.

Sterling envisioned this scene as part of a program—begun by a group of lawyers, community members, artists, and currently and formerly incarcerated men and their families, and based in Chicago—that fulfills the photography requests of inmates being held in solitary confinement. Tamms Correctional Center, where Sterling was held for several years, and which closed in 2013, was the only supermax prison in the state of Illinois; it housed people who were deemed “the worst of the worst,” as its first warden, George Welborn, told the Chicago Tribune in 1998, and it held the majority of them in what was euphemistically referred to as isolation. Tamms had seven hundred beds, five hundred of them in an all-solitary-confinement supermax facility. Those in solitary spent at least twenty-two hours a day in their cells. Some days, they were not let out at all. For meals, boiled eggs and loaves of congealed food were slid through a thin aperture in the steel cell door. The sink and the toilet were combined into one structure.

In 2006, activists formed a poetry committee to mitigate the sensory deprivation that the prison inflicted on the people held there. They exchanged letters and poems with the inmates. Two years later, the committee transformed into Tamms Year Ten, a coalition that protested the conditions at the prison, with the goal of seeing it shuttered. The group also asked inmates to fill out a form describing a picture that they would like to receive. A volunteer would then create it.

Laurie Jo Reynolds, the organizer of Tamms Year Ten, recently described to me, over the phone, the work that was done to fulfill Sterling’s request: “We got a caravan of sixteen family members. I got an a-cappella singer, one of our volunteers, to sing ‘Amazing Grace.’ And then we had to work it out with the proprietor of Bald Knob Cross that we would have dinner there, because it was dark by the time it was over.” In the wide-shot photo, the cross looms against a colorless sky as a crowd of people, dressed in white and black, huddles nearby, heads lowered. To Sterling, the image was an amulet, a prayer frozen in time. One year after Sterling received it, he was granted parole.”



“According to many human-rights organizations, the prolonged lack of human contact and sensory deprivation that inmates experience in solitary confinement qualifies as torture. The legislative campaign that Tamms Year Ten spearheaded succeeded in closing the prison. The photo-request project continued, in affiliation with the watchdog group Solitary Watch. Now known as Photo Requests from Solitary, it is run by Reynolds, Jean Casella, a co-director of Solitary Watch, and Jeanine Oleson, a professor of photography at Parsons School of Design. According to Casella, in six years, the program has received a few hundred requests for people imprisoned in Illinois, New York, California, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.”



“The sensual urges of the incarcerated are often demonized, dismissed as criminal or undeserved, but Photo Requests from Solitary regards them without judgment. Within the parameters of prison rules, the group fulfills requests of an erotic bent. Reynolds told me fondly about a man named Johnny, who asked for a particular screenshot of Jennifer Lopez’s butt from the “Jenny from the Block” music video. She noted that many men’s requests for pictures of women seemed tender, oriented to narrative and tableau—more like what you would see in “women’s porn,” she said. Dan, for instance, requested a modest fantasy: a picture of a “black female with hazel eyes,” with “orange and blue in the sky” and a Mercedes-Benz of “powder blue.” His request was realized via a collaboration between Photo Requests and Vice. The photographer, Jason Altaan, made the image glaringly arty; I wonder how Dan liked it.

Not all of the people who volunteer for these assignments are artists or photographers, per se. Most fulfill the assignments straightforwardly, without interpreting or embellishing, even when the requests are conceptual—men and women asking to be represented as howling wolves, or crying lions, or sad clowns. The volunteers do their best to be another person’s eyes, and to respect the significance of the exchange. (You can visit the project’s Web site and, if you’d like, fulfill a request of your own.) Frank, imprisoned in California, enclosed a photograph of his daughter with his form, asking that she be Photoshopped into an image of the Pyramid of the Sun, in Teotihuacán, Mexico. Jason Mena placed her in the sky above the structure, as if she were the sun. One man requested a new picture of his daughter; a volunteer travelled to her home to take it. In the box, time stands still and it doesn’t. Chris asked to see a photograph of the Barclays Center, in downtown Brooklyn, which had been built while he was incarcerated. “I just want to see it the best way the photographer can capture it. To feel as if I’m right there,” he wrote.

Advocates estimate that eighty thousand people are currently housed in solitary confinement, though the difficulty of tracking confined populations means that the number may be larger. A small exhibition of Photo Requests from Solitary was recently held at the Brooklyn Public Library, featuring banners printed with blown-up copies of some of the prisoners’ requests. I noticed that observers lingered longer on the request forms than they did on the pictures. Regrets, anguish, and hope emanated from the handwriting. The descriptions were abundant and precise, sometimes ecstatic—images that the inmates assembled from language long before they were made visual. “Motion!,” Mark, in Pennsylvania, writes. “I’ve been in solitary for twenty-three years and three days today. It’s like living in a still-life painting;. . . I’d like to see things moving. Perhaps traffic at night, lights shining and the trails from lights whizzing past.”“
doreenstfélix  photography  society  prison  solitaryconfinement  2019  imagery  sensorydeprivation  senses  humanrights  incarceration  solidarity 
6 weeks ago by robertogreco

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