An ode to the pop-fiction palate cleanser

I decided to try it at an airport, because… I was already drinking a bloody, you know? Anyway I loved it, practically inhaled it, and passed it on to a friend. She was looking for a pick-me-up, had been into the hard stuff lately. Pretty soon I found another friend who liked it, and a week later, a third confessed: She’d needed it, needed the break from reality.

So there you have it. If you’re looking for a reprieve from life’s daily frustrations, Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies is an almost guaranteed conduit to temporary nirvana. 

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Oryx and Crake is the future humanity deserves


I got my first taste of the apocalypse driving west on Route 50.

US-50 spans Maryland to California, and much of its Colorado/Nevada leg tracks I-70, one of several highways that have more or less rendered Route 50 obsolete. Sometimes they’re the same road, and sometimes I-70 is visible in the distance, its familiar green signage and rush of 18-wheelers a comforting talisman against the isolation of the elder thruway. But every so often the highway is miles off, and the visual lull of gas stations and rest stops give way to a different kind of lull: the thrum of tires on barely paved asphalt, the rush of breeze through open windows, vistas of untouched landscape in every direction.

Near Fruita, Colorado, Route 50 and I-70 part ways, and the former enters a stretch of near-total isolation (what I will come to know as one of many). The smooth surface of well-maintained blacktop gives over to worn, crumbling asphalt, and sometimes gravel. Lane lines fade and then disappear; desert shrubbery creeps in at the shoulders, threatening to overtake the pavement entirely. For 23 minutes, I didn’t see a single other car. Surrounded by mountains, vegetation, the mutterings of unseen wildlife, and one disintegrating road, it suddenly wasn’t hard to imagine a world in which people ceased to be, to imagine the planet reclaiming the land we colonized, bulldozing the evidence of humanity in the slow-motion manner of mother nature. It felt wrong, even, to be the only human thing, the only piece of civilization in sight. Like encroaching on someone else’s property, or stepping behind enemy lines.

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Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear is 500 pages of batshit insanity


It would be difficult to overstate the number of unhinged anecdotes that appear in Lawrence Wright’s 2013 book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, or in the HBO documentary adaptation that premieres on March 29. There’s the time David Miscavige, the current leader of the church, conducted a game of musical chairs among officers—to the soundtrack of Queen’s greatest hits—telling them that all but the winner would be shipped off to remote Scientology bases. There’s the time L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder, claimed to have access to an underground space station north of Corsica. And, of course, there’s Tom Cruise. So much Tom Cruise.

Born of interviews with 200 current and former Scientology members, Wright’s Going Clear details Scientology’s 1950s origin story through its present-day troubles, and earned him “innumerable” threatening letters from lawyers representing the church. HBO’s documentary, directed by Alex Gibney, covers a decent portion of Wright’s book, and features interviews with ex-Scientology members that include screenwriter Paul Haggis (35 years in the church) and actor Jason Beghe (13 years), as well as former Scientology higher-ups like Spanky Taylor, a member for 17 years who was John Travolta’s onetime point person; Mike Rinder, church spokesman from 1982 to 2007; and Hana Eltringham Whitfield, a founding member of the Sea Organization (Scientology’s clergy of sorts), who left the church in 1982 after 19 years.

“My goal wasn’t to write an exposé,” Wright tells Gibney early in the documentary. “It was to understand Scientology…. I was interested in intelligent and skeptical people who are drawn into a belief system and wind up acting on those beliefs in ways they never thought they would.”

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Just kids stuff

In a bit of fortuitous timing, I finished Patti Smith’s Just Kids the same day that Girls, a new comedy from Lena Dunham/Judd Apatow, premiered on HBO.

Now, these two things aren’t directly related. In fact, they’re not really related at all. Rather, one just made me think of the other, and since the critical reception of Just Kids ran the gamut from appreciative to absolutely glowing—while Girls received less favorable treatment from the likes of Gawker and, you know, viewers—I thought it perhaps an apt time to share the comparison.

For the unfamiliar, Just Kids is a memoir written by artist/poet/musician Patti Smith, about her long relationship-turned-friendship with fellow artist Robert Mapplethorpe, he of controversial photography fame. Smith, now married with children, wrote the book in 2010, nearly 20 years after Robert’s death, and more than forty years after the pair first met in Brooklyn as 20-year-old aspiring artists. Smith’s is a memoir about love, but also about a time and a place—New York in the 1970s—and about coming into one’s own as an artist and an adult. Although we as readers know how the story ends—with success for both subjects and Mapplethorpe’s ultimate death from AIDS—Just Kids isn’t so much focused on the tangible progression of the pair’s respective careers. It’s a glimpse behind the scenes, into the development and maturation of two people who at first glance really are just young and clueless, aspirational and broke, hopeful and driven.

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