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.
In the 1880s, a group of rural Illinoisans formed a Christian sect that believed that a local woman, Dorinda Beekman, was the new Jesus Christ. When Mrs. Beekman died, a follower of hers claimed that her spirit lived inside him; as the new leader of the sect, he moved his followers into a barn and named it Heaven. At The Paris Review Daily, Dan Visel looks back on this odd chapter of history, as well as the novel it inspired. (Related: Eric Shonkwiler on the literature of the Midwest.)
An intrepid (or sadistic?) YouTube user created a “No Cry Challenge” video playlist composed of nineteen videos that will surely punch you in the gut. These things are heavy and heart wrenching. I don’t want to mislead you at all: they could very well ruin your entire week. The first one in the queue is especially devastating; I recommend doing it last. After you watch a couple, go outside and take a walk. Hug a family member, a pet or a friend. (via)
Writing for Airship Daily, Freddie Moore provides an overview of ten of her favorite unpublished J. D. Salinger stories. She also shares instructions on how to find – while being careful not to link directly toward – a “207-page trove of 22 out-of-print pieces available online.” This is for the best, considering the relationship between the Catcher in the Rye author, his unpublished works, and U.S. copyright.
Cairo bookstore Bab Aldonia has installed a soundproof room for its customers in which, MobyLives reports, “anyone can go and scream in privacy for ten minutes at a time.” An unsigned piece on the online magazine Cairoscene notes that working out one’s frustrations within the safety of its walls “may prove just as effective as regime change.” The stakes are considerably lower, but if you’re a fan of indie booksellers, you’ll also enjoy our piece about bookstores we have known, loved, and worked for.
“You can’t read books all the time; trust me, I’ve tried (and like I said to the officer, at least I wasn’t texting and driving).” Simon Lowe chooses his 10 favorite book podcasts for The Guardian. We featured a list of some must-listens earlier this year too.
Could “cozy literary fiction” ever be a thing? Mallory Ortberg at The Toast has penned a passionate defense of the unintentionally hilarious “cozy mystery” genre. Sate your mystery fix with this essay from The Millions’ own Matt Seidel on the four ways to wrap up a mystery tale.
Need some more Jeanette Winterson in your life? The New Statesman is here with a short story. Titled “Gnomon,” it centers on a medieval blacksmith, Stephen, who’s asked to create his town’s first mechanical clock. Sample quote: “Time is irregular. One hour is not the same length as another.”