Did you do your taxes? In Souvankham Thammavongsa’s new fiction for The Paris Review, a woman loses her job of 15 years and enrolls in classes at a tax-prep company. Although she is more of a humanities person, the numbers make sense to her; tax returns, she discovers, are all about people. “The tax return,” she thinks, “is, in some ways, a record of truth. People give you what they have. Or, at least, you count on that.” Required reading for anyone who’s ever had a meltdown in an accountant’s office.
When did Samuel Beckett’s “fail better” become the motto of Silicon Valley? At Slate, our own Mark O’Connell traces the history of the phrase. “Fail Better, with its TEDishly counterintuitive feel, is the literary takeaway par excellence; it’s usefully suggestive, too, of the corporate propaganda of productivity, with its appeals to ‘think different’ or ‘work smarter’ or ‘just do it.'”
Mary Ruefle, author of the forthcoming Madness, Rack, and Honey, wrote a poetic essay on the subject of fear. It’s chock full of lines like this one about why she likes the word dread more than the word fear: “because fear, like the unconscious emotion which is one of its forms, has only the word ear inside of it, telling an animal to listen, while dread has the word read inside of it, telling us to read carefully and find the dead, who are also there.”
A mom sat her six-year-old daughter down in front of some classic books and asked her to guess the story based on the cover. The results are both charming and eerily accurate. I’m glad we at least now know what lies in the liminal space between Lev Grossman and kittens inspired by kittens.