Reviews, reviews, reviews! This week’s round-up includes some real masters of fiction — Junot Diaz, Shani Boianjiu and the Basque writer Bernard Atxaga — and some inquisitive, big-hearted non-fiction craftsmen too. The reviews are up on the Newsweek/Daily Beast site.
A round-up of some of the segments I’ve particularly enjoyed working on for The Takeaway recently:
Listeners Respond: Things You Would Have Said A funny thing happens when you call up strangers and tell them you’re a public radio producer: They tell you things, personal things. After doing a short interview with Jackie Hooper, the author of The Things You Would Have Said, we were flooded with listener comments about things they wished they’d said to people in their past. I had the task of calling up a handful of listeners for longer phone interviews. We finally aired the stories of three listeners.
An Argument Against Happiness Last month the United Nations took up the topic of moving beyond conventional economic measures in a session called “Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm.” As a follow-up to our segment on this move, we invited Wake Forest University English Professor Eric Wilson, author of Against Happiness, onto the program. He argued the virtues of melancholy. “In America there is a sense that we can have all up with no down and all light with no dark — that we can be happy all the time,” he said. “I’m in favor of honestly facing the world as it is and trying to make the best of it.”
March Heat Breaks Records Across the Country According to figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more than 15,000 weather records were set in the United States this March. John Harold, a farmer in Olathe, Colorado described the dilemmas the unseasonably warm weather had presented on his farm. Andrew Revkin of The New York Times’ “Dot Earth” blog summed things up this way: “Expect more of the same as the climate warms.”
Walmart’s Mexican Bribery Scandal Charles Fishman, author of The Wal-Mart Effect joined the program from his home in Mexico City to provide some perspective on reports of widespread bribery in Walmart’s Mexican operations. When Fishman was working on his book years before, he’d been struck by how rigidly ethical the company’s practices were in the US. “What’s interesting is instead of Walmart changing the culture of Mexico, Mexico changed the culture of Walmart,” Fishman said.
Baby Boomers Squeeze Savings to Support Parents and Children According to a new survey from Ameriprise Financial, more than half of baby boomers help their parents pay for groceries, medical expenses, or utilities. What’s more, a stunning 93% provide their adult children with financial support too. “Boomers’ attitudes about spending and saving have changed dramatically,” Suzanna de Baca of Ameriprise Financial explained. Boomer Mark Niedt in Denver described his own predicament. “While I’d love to be socking away some money for my own retirement, I’m really forced to derail that and give some assistance when I can,” he said.
Men — You Talk Too Much Yale organizational behavior professor Tori Brescoll shared her fascinating research about just how much powerful men and women talk in the workplace. “Give men power and they’ll talk a lot — but that wasn’t really the case for women,” Brescoll found. What’s more, women who were particularly outspoken paid a price: They were perceived as incompetent and unlikeable. “Indeed what I found is that whether it was politics or business, really talkative women were really slammed,” she said.
A Sign of the Times: Underearners Anonymous Genevieve Smith‘s cover story in the latest issue of Harper’s magazine describes her experiences in “Underearner’s Anonymous,” a 12-step program for the chronically underpaid. She explained how following the country’s economic recovery had made her a “connoisseur of financial pessimism” and why she was drawn to the program.
Behind the Scenes Diplomacy for Chen Guangcheng NYU Law Professor Jerome Cohen has maintained a friendship with Chinese dissedent Chen Guangcheng for more than a decade and remained in touch with him as he tried to navigate between US and Chinese officials in the days following his daring escape from house arrest. “He was confronted by two unattractive opportunities,” Cohen explained.
Written in 1939 but only now translated into English for the first time, Osamu Dazai’s Schoolgirl—a slim, precocious novella narrated by a schoolgirl of indeterminate age—was stylish and provocative in its time. Almost three-quarters of a century later, its prescience seems eerie; hardly anything about this book seems to have aged, least of all the narrator herself, who is perfectly preserved somewhere along the road to adolescence. Though she’s still young enough to entertain herself with nonsensical songs and inventive daydreams as she walks home from school (“I thought today I will try to pretend that I am from somewhere else, someone who has never been to this country town before”), she’s old enough to know her childhood is fast coming to a close. “It made me miserable that I was rapidly becoming an adult and that I was unable to do anything about it,” she reflects.
The full review is here. It’s also definitely worth spending some time with the rest of this month’s Words Without Borders issue (which happens to be all about sex).
Here are just some of the segments I’ve recently worked on for The Takeaway:
A New Legal Challenge to Affirmative Action “Since George Washington, universities have been thought of as places where the American melting-pot idea could be realized, in part,” Columbia University President Lee Bollinger told The Takeaway. Nearly a decade ago, Bollinger was part of two landmark Supreme Court Cases on affirmative action, Gratz vs. Bollinger and Grutter vs. Bollinger. He weighed in on how the new challenge to affirmative action posed by the Fisher vs. Texas case could change the face of the student body of universities of the future.
NYPD Surveillance Program Monitored Muslim Students at 13 Colleges A recently leaked New York Police Department report provides a startling picture of just how far the NYPD’s intelligence division went in a surveillance program targeting monitoring Muslims students at 13 colleges in the northeast. CUNY student Jawad Rasul told The Takeaway he was shocked to find out he’d given an undercover agent a ride to a student whitewater rafting trip. “These things come out which really are kind of a slap in the face to the people who are trying to assimilate into the country and lose our foreign identity to become American,” he said. (More on this story from the WNYC Newsroom.)
Electoral Demographics and the History of Presidential Primaries Ken C. Davis, author of Don’t Much About History joined the show to help fact-check some claims made by writer Timothy Egan in a recent New York Times op-ed. “There is no other way to put this without resorting to demographic bluntness: the small fraction of Americans who are trying to pick the Republican nominee are old, white, uniformly Christian and unrepresentative of the nation at large,” Egan claimed. Davis explained why that comparison is somewhat — but not entirely — accurate.
60 Lives Connected in the Largest Chain of Kidney Transplants Candice and Michael Ryan, a husband and wife kidney recipient and donor shared their moving experience as part of the largest-ever chain of kidney transplants. “It’s life-changing,” an emotional Candice Ryan told The Takeaway. Check out The New York Times’ incredible multimedia coverage of this story here.
Chinese Vice-President Xi Jingping Visits The US The Atlantic Monthly’s James Fallows explained how the Communist Party’s role in business has evolved in China. Kirk Leeds, CEO of the Iowa Soybean Association also joined the show to discuss how Vice-President Xi’s visit to the state would reinforce a multi-billion dollar trade partnership.
California’s Ban on Gay Marriage Struck Down “You cannot give a right to marry and then take it away solely on the ground that the individuals that you are taking it away from are a despised or disfavored group,” explained NYU law professor Kenji Yoshino. While working on this segment, I also recorded a short audio interview with John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, a phenomenal couple. Read more about them here or listen to a longer interview with them from 2010 here.
Tebow Bill May Allow Home-Schoolers to Play on High School Teams Homeschooler Patrick Foss is a talented soccer player heading to University of Virginia in the fall to play college soccer. He told The Takeaway he wished he’d been able to play soccer on the local high school team. “My parents are taxpayers just like next door neighbors, just like the person two doors down who is the starting point-guard at our high school,” he said.
For a little more than a year now, I’ve been working the early early shift. Most days, I leave my apartment at 3 a.m. to be at my desk by 3:30 a.m. At least once a week, I’m in an hour before that. “I don’t know how you do it,” people tell me. When I think about the fact that the Dalai Lama typically wakes up at least 45 minutes later than I do, I don’t know either.
But secretly, I’ve come to really enjoy the shift. I like slipping out of my apartment building before anyone is awake to greet Carlos, the calm and collected driver who works for the car service contracted by my office. As he drives his Benz (yes, I ride a Benz to work!) through the deserted streets, we complain about how tired we are. We talk about politics, money, Moammar Gadhafi, the weather, and our weekends as I scan the latest headlines on my phone. Sipping my tea and looking out at the Manhattan skyline, I brace myself for the day ahead.
Most days, my shift goes quickly. A deadline every half-hour keeps me on my toes. After the show ends, I stumble out into the sunshine, the day entirely open to me. Sometimes I go to a coffee shop and read. Sometimes I sit in the park. Sometimes I meet underemployed friends for dawdling, decadent lunches. Sometimes I go for a run along the West Side Highway, or to an early afternoon yoga class. There’s hardly anyone at the gym when I get there, and while the lunch rush swells in and out, I take my time.
I take naps. I stay up too late. I fall asleep on the subway on my way home from work every single day. I’ve learned to loop my purse around my arms as soon as I sit down so that once I’m asleep it’s not a temptation for anyone else riding a mid-afternoon Queens-bound train. Once in a while, I oversleep and miss my stop. I walk the extra avenues home in the bright mid-morning light cursing myself.
Strangely, I haven’t overslept my shift once.
A few weeks after I started this job, my coworker Sitara emailed out a poem called “Four a.m.” by Wislawa Szymborska. It remains tacked up to the wall of my work-station:
The hour between night and day.
The hour between toss and turn.
The hour of thirty-year-olds.
The hour swept clean for rooster’s crowing.
The hour when the earth takes back its warm embrace.
The hour of cool drafts from extinguished stars.
The hour of do-we-vanish-too-without-a-trace.
Rock bottom of all the other hours. No one feels fine at four a.m.
If ants feel fine at four a.m.,
we’re happy for the ants. And let five a.m. come
if we’ve got to go on living.
I won’t dispute it: 4 a.m. is the rock-bottom hour. But I’ve grown to savor the luxury of the many other free hours my work schedule affords. Once work is out of the way, the entire day is mine, and there are always more than enough ways to spend it. After next week, I start a new shift. I’ll be saying goodbye to my morning crew buddies (hands down, the coolest kids I’ve ever worked with) to take up a new daytime role. I’ll arrive at the office after the sun’s come up and leave before the sun goes down like most people do. “Let five a.m. come!” I thought to myself when my boss delivered the news. We’ve got to go on living.