For the most part, Alexis de Tocqueville had good things to say about the young United States in his book Democracy in America, which is probably why we tend to forget that he thought Americans weren’t funny. What de Tocqueville missed, according to a new history of American humor, is the extent to which American funniness emerged from subversive groups of outsiders. In Bookforum, Ben Schwartz takes stock of the arguments in American Fun.
The Imperfectionists author and Year in Reading alum Tom Rachman has a new novel on shelves this week, as does Orson Scott Card. Also out: Eyrie by Tim Winton; O, Africa! by Andrew Lewis Conn; So Much a Part of You by Polly Dugan; Stars Go Blue by Laura Pritchett; Third Rail by Rory Flynn; and Time of the Locust by Morowa Yejide.
This holiday season, show a little restraint. Write a short short that uses each word only once, and email it to [email protected] by December 31 at midnight for your chance to win Electric Literature vol. 1 and be published on their blog, The Outlet. Further details available here.
The Believer posts a 2003 essay featuring Donald Barthelme’s reading list, which came secondhand to Kevin Moffett, a self-professed non-reader: “Barthelme’s only guidance, passed on by Padgett Powell, one of Barthelme’s former students at the University of Houston and my teacher at the time, was to attack the books ‘in no particular order, just read them,’ which is exactly what I, in my confident illiteracy, resolved to do.” (via The Paris Review)
The word “cool” has been cool for more than 70 years. At Slate, Carl Wilson examines why this slang stuck, and how it’s evolved from being used by beatniks to smartphone companies. “Cool is an attitude that allows detached assessment, but one that prizes an air of knowingness over specific knowledge. I think that’s why it doesn’t become dated, unlike hotter-running expressions of enthusiasm like groovy or rad.” Pair with: Michael Agger’s essay on why we love the “cool story, bro” meme.