The Best I Read: June 2022
Less is more (sorry not sorry)
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
“By the end, Arthur Less is in tears, sobbing in his seat, and he thinks he has been sobbing quietly until the lights come up and the woman seated beside him turns and says, “Honey, I don’t know what happened in your life, but I am so so sorry,” and gives him a lilac-scented embrace. Nothing happened to me, he wants to say to her. Nothing happened to me. I’m just a homosexual at a Broadway show.”
When I think of Pulitzer Prize-winning books, “funny” doesn’t come to mind. But Less, winner of the 2017 Pulitzer, is a giggler. I laughed so frequently my partner asked if I was “ok” several times (reader: I am never ok).
Our hero, Arthur Less, is an aging, middling author literally running from his problems — he’s embarked on a world tour of obscure literary events to avoid two things: (1) his ex’s wedding and (2) being alone on his 50th birthday (“Arthur Less is the first homosexual ever to grow old. That is, at least, how he feels at times like these”). What unfolds is a comedy of errors as he traverses the globe, encountering insufferable literary elite, hapless event organizers, and transient lovers. You get the feeling that Arthur sort of glides through life, taking what it gives and takes without much resistance. At one point in the second half of the book, he finds himself celebrating his 50th birthday in the middle of the desert with a random assortment of eccentric strangers (“Zohra’s voice comes loudly from her camel: “Shut the fuck up! Enjoy the fucking sunset on your fucking camels! Jesus!”). One-by-one the partygoers fall ill, until only Less and the hostess are left to ring in his seminal birthday. But he is not alone, and he has survived. What he cannot see — not yet — is that he’s not only survived, he’s thrived. He has lived a big life with a big heart. Snooty literary scene be damned — who cares about anything else?
This was a rough month on the news and cultural front, to say the very least. As a reprieve, I’m only including pieces mostly unrelated to our collective political garbage fire.
How Harmful is Social Media? by Gideon Lewis-Krauss in The New Yorker
When I spoke to some of the researchers whose work had been included, I found a combination of broad, visceral unease with the current situation — with the banefulness of harassment and trolling; with the opacity of the platforms; with, well, the widespread presentiment that of course social media is in many ways bad — and a contrastive sense that it might not be catastrophically bad in some of the specific ways that many of us have come to take for granted as true.
The Six Forces That Fuel Friendship by Julie Beck in The Atlantic
I’m not religious, but I do love the concept of grace, of a gift so profound that it could never be earned or deserved. And so when I cite grace here as the final and most important force in friendships, I mean it in two ways. One is the forgiveness that we offer each other when we fall short. The other is the space that creates for connections — and reconnections — that feel nothing short of miraculous.
The Follower by David Gauvey Herbert in Esquire
Many moments had delivered Jeff to this one. Since 1980, Ganas had been a community that embraced all manner of new-agey life. But his relationship with the group — particularly with its charismatic and often abusive leader, Mildred Gordon — had become unrecognizable since their early days. He’d signed over a small fortune, endured thousands of hours of “feedback” sessions, and entered a four-way marriage. And now he was bleeding out in the back of an ambulance.
How had Jeff gotten into this mess? And why had he stayed?