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Most Anticipated: The Great 2023A Book Preview

Welcome to our biannual Great Book Preview! We've assembled the best books of 2023A (that is, the first half of 2023), including new work from Nicole Chung, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Claire Dederer, Brian Dillon, Samantha Irby, Heidi Julavits, Catherine Lacy, Mario Vargas Llosa, Rebecca Makkai, Fernanda Melchor, Lorrie Moore, Jenny Odell, Curtis Sittenfeld, Clint Smith, Zadie Smith, Brandon Taylor, Colm Tóibín, and many, many more. At 85 titles, you may notice our 2023A list is a bit trimmer and more selective than in year's past. We wanted to make sure that our list comprises the books that we are truly anticipating the most—which is to say, we've carefully curated our selections to showcase the very best books coming out in the first half of 2023. We hope you enjoy! Love reading our Great Book Previews? Learn how you can support The Millions here. January Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor Part crime thriller and part saga of the powerful Wadia family, Age of Vice roams across India, from the dusty villages of Uttar Pradesh to the cauldron of New Delhi. Three lives intersect in this world of lavish estates, extravagant parties, drugs and seamy business deals: Ajay, the watchful family servant; Sunny, the playboy heir; and Neda, a journalist out to expose the consequences of corruption. The writing has authority. Kapoor, author of the novel Bad Character, grew up in northern India and has worked as a journalist in New Delhi. The result is an addictive, vivid spellbinder of a novel. —Bill Morris Decent People by De'Shawn Charles Winslow Winslow returns to the fictional Southern town of West Mills for a second time in this expertly-plotted and character-driven follow-up to his award-winning debut novel. In the 1970s, an investigation into a triple homicide reveals surprising and profoundly sad layers of reality for the townspeople of West Mills—the trauma and ramifications of segregation, class, deeply kept secrets, and underlying homophobia. A haunting, page-turning mystery, Decent People makes a must-read on anyone’s literary list. —Jianan Qian The Survivalists by Kashana Cauley In this debut novel, a perpetually single Black lawyer, Aretha, falls in love with Aaron, a coffee entrepreneur who shares a brownstone with a stable of bizarre roommates. When Aretha moves in with Aaron, she gets caught up in their household dramas, which range from illegal gun sales to half-baked schemes to prepare for the end of the world. It will not surprise people who’ve read Cauley's essays—or seen her work on The Daily Show, or read her excellent tweets—that The Survivalists is, according to Tom Perrotta, an “edgy” and “darkly funny” book. —Thom Beckwith Still Pictures by Janet Malcolm Malcolm was a master of reportage, able to dissect and decipher her subjects with startling precision. (Also one of my own writerly heroes.) She often mused on the relationship between journalist and subject; in much of her journalism, she judged her subjects from a cool distance. How, then, would she approach a memoir? What would a self-portrait by one of our most formidable portraitists look like? These were the questions that exhilarated me when I began Malcolm's posthumous memoir. Still Pictures is as much a look at Malcolm's own photos and memories as the nature of photography and memory, written with all her characteristic style and clarity. —Sophia M. Stewart The Half Known Life by Pico Iyer In this philosophical and theological travelog, Iyer searches the globe for paradise. Not for himself—he wants to understand the idea of paradise, that incentive and dream and goal that undergirds the world's religions. Maria Popova herself, the brilliant mind behind The Marginalian, has called Iyer "one of the most soulful and perceptive writers of our time" and I expect The Half Known Life will further cement that status. —SMS OK by Michelle McSweeney In this slim and lucid addition to the Object Lessons series, which explores the hidden lives of everyday objects, linguist and author Michelle McSweeney unpacks the phrase “OK,” coined 200 years ago and now ubiquitous in spoken English. As an object, “OK” reveals how technologies inscribe themselves into languages—originally, it was an acronym that stood for “all correct,” a phrase which marked some of the earliest printed newspapers as ready for publication. From there, McSweeney traces the word’s evolution through the present, illuminating the ways in which its meaning developed over time. —TB The 12th Commandment by Daniel Torday Torday presents a provocative and unexpected tale of contemporary Jewish life that owes less to Philip Roth and Saul Bellow than it does to Cynthia Ozick and Isaac Bashevis Singer. The 12th Commandment concerns the historical sect known as the Dönmeh, Turkish followers of a seventeenth-century Jewish pseudo-messiah who outwardly practice Islam but who are actually adherents of an esoteric kabbalistic faith. “Weird folk,” explains a character, “They’re like Jews and Muslims at the same time. Or something.” Unexpectedly set among an imagined group of Dönmeh in small-town Ohio, with a noirish murder plot driving the action, and The 12th Commandment will appeal to fans of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, but Torday’s unique imagination and vital vision are his own. —Ed Simon Forbidden Notebook by Alba de Céspedes, translated by Ann Goldstein The story begins when Valeria Cossati—a 43-year-old office worker, self-sacrificing wife, and mother of two—buys a thick black notebook and begins writing at night—her thoughts, experiences, and fury. What follows over the course of six months are reflections on motherhood and femininity in postwar Rome that were as urgent and revelatory in the 1950s, when the novel was originally published, as they are today in post-Roe America. In the words of Annie Ernaux: “Reading Alba de Céspedes was, for me, like breaking into an unknown universe.” —Jenny Wu Life on Delay: Making Peace with a Stutter by John Hendrickson I've been waiting for John to write this book since I first read his paradigm-shifting Atlantic article "What Joe Biden Can't Bring Himself to Say." Like Biden, John is a person who stutters. In Life on Delay, and with profound intelligence and insight, John examines his own stuttering life, as well as the lives of many other stutterers, to probe the many contradictions of disfluency. John has become something of a torchbearer in our community, and this book is going to be an essential contribution to the (currently very limited) literature of stuttering. I hate when people call certain books "important"—but this book is very important me, and will be important to a lot of people. We've been waiting a long time for a book like this. —SMS The Call of the Tribe by Mario Vargas Llosa, translated by John King When I began my undergraduate studies, I was disappointed by how little nonfiction appeared on the syllabi of my Spanish literature classes. Then I encountered Llosa, a Nobel-winning nonfictioneer and intellectual heavyweight (and occasional novelist) who rose to prominence during the Latin American Boom. In The Call of the Tribe, he maps out the minds that shaped his own: Sartre and Adam Smith, Friedrich A. Hayek and Isaiah Berlin, and many more (mostly male) writers and thinkers. It's a pleasure—and a pleasurable challenge—to read Llosa on the roots of his ideology. —SMS The Once and Future Sex: Going Medieval on Women's Roles in Society by Eleanor Janega Ever since I visited the Cloisters for the first time earlier this year, I've been hungry to learn more about medieval life, and specifically women's place in it. Enter The Once and Future Sex, the subtitle of which quite directly addresses this yen of mine. Janega, a medievalist by training, makes middle-age sociology accessible, highlighting how archaic notions of femininity continue to shape modern womanhood in ways both subtle and overt. Beauty, sex, work, labor, motherhood, decorum—no aspect of women's lives goes unexplored in this rigorous study, which also highlights many of the era's subversive trailblazers. —SMS Black and Female by Tsitsi Dangarembga Zimbabwean writer Dangarembga explores the long shadow cast by imperialism in her own life, and the lives of all African people, in this volume of essays. The personal and political commingle (because, as all feminists know, they're one and the same) as Dangarembga excavates her own history and the history of her nation. The result is a clear-eyed look at what navigating life and art-making as a woman in Zimbabwe has taught her, as well as the possibilities and limits of a distinctly Black feminism, which she calls "the status quo’s worst nightmare." —SMS A Guest at the Feast by Colm Tóibín One of Ireland's greatest living novelists, Tóibín is known the world over for his fiction. That's why I'm so curious to read his new essay collection, to see how he transfers his mastery across genres. A (supposedly) great compliment is to be called a nonfiction writer with a "novelist's" sensibility—the implication being that nonfiction is best when it reads like fiction. (I disagree!) This isn't Tóibín's first foray into nonfiction (he's written books on Elizabeth Bishop; contemporary queer artists; and the fathers of famous Irish writers)—but it is one of his most intimate. This is clear from the book's outset, which features one of best opening lines I've read in a minute: "It all started with my balls." —SMS Vintage Contemporaries by Dan Kois I always love reading Dan Kois's criticism (if you haven't yet read him on Tár, please do yourself the favor—and prepare to have your mind blown) so I was thrilled to hear about his forthcoming novel, a coming-of-age set in New York City at the turn of the millennium that wrestles with art, friendship, and what it means to cultivate a creative life. Our very own Lydia Kiesling blurbed it and gave it what is in my book one of the ultimate compliments: "poignant without being treacly." A near-impossible literary feat—I can't wait to see (read?) Kois pull it off for myself. —SMS Your Driver Is Waiting by Priya Guns A retelling of the movie Taxi Driver featuring a ride-share driver? An incredible premise for a novel that explores work, class, and solidarity (or the lack thereof). Damani Krishanthan works for an Uber-like company, scraping by after her father dies during his shift at a fast-food restaurant. During a summer of uprising, she drives through throngs of protestors trying to make enough to cover rent. A relationship with a white wealthy protestor goes south, prompting a dramatic ending (considering its cinematic source material, I can only imagine). —Lydia Kiesling The Guest Lecture by Martin Riker Abby, a young economist, can't sleep the night before the talk she is scheduled to present tomorrow, optimism and John Maynard Keynes. A lapsed optimist struggling to support her family, she feels grossly unprepared to offer any insights into Keynes. With wry humor and true wisdom, Riker, co-founder and publisher of Dorothy, a Publishing Project, transforms one woman’s insomnia into an enchanting and playful exploration of literature, performance, and the life of the mind. —JQ After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz At the turn of the twentieth century, three queer women—Rina Faccio, Romaine Brooks, and Virginia Woolf among them—make the same decision: They take up their pens or paintbrushes to define their lives and their identities on their own terms. Taking cues from the Greek poet, After Sappho, Schwartz's Booker-longlisted debut novel, reimagines the intertwined voices of those pioneering women artists in the collective first-person, whose courage and struggles never cease to inspire and encourage those who come after. —JQ Hanging Out by Sheila Liming We’ve all heard the admonitions to slow down, drop out, resist the rush—but what does that actually look like? “Hanging out is about daring to do nothing much and, even more than that, about daring to do it in the company of others,” writes Liming in her treatise on the subject, the follow-up to her 2020 book What a Library Means to a Woman on Edith Wharton and book collections. Hanging Out, an endearing and revealing book, is well-timed, but as she notes, “we were having a hard time hanging out well before COVID-19 came along.” She makes a compelling case for us to get together. —Nick Ripatrazone Call and Response: Stories by Gothataone Moeng This debut story collection joins a chorus of literary voices rising out of contemporary Africa. Set in the author’s native village of Serowe, as well as in Gabarone, the thrumming capital of Botswana, these stories are spun from the struggles of women seeking to reconcile ancestral expectations with imported dreams—a girl who hides her sexual exploits from her family while her older brother flaunts his conquests; a young widow who ponders the custom of wearing mourning clothes for a year; a woman who returns from America, ashamed to have given up on the land of opportunity. The great Namwalli Serpell praised the collection for its "sharply observed vignettes," which together amount to a "beautiful" book full of "deep insight." —BM Black Empire by George S. Schuyler Originally published in serial form in the 1930s, Black Empire is the masterwork of George S. Schuyler, a journalist, Harlem Renaissance man, socialist-turned-arch-conservative, and creator of acid satires. This novel is the story of Dr. Henry Belsidus, a Black genius who sets out to cultivate a global network that will reclaim Africa from imperial powers and punish Europe and America for their crimes against the world’s Black population. Schuyler’s earlier novel, Black No More, is a satirical romp about a Black man who turns his skin white. In all his work, Schuyler work confronts an abiding and urgent moral quandary: How far should one go to bring justice to an unjust world? —BM February Where I'm Coming From by Barbara Brandon-Croft Drawn & Quarterly has never let me down, and its winning streak won’t be snapped by this collection from the first Black woman to have a nationally-syndicated comic strip. In the witty and groundbreaking "Where I’m Coming From," which ran from 1989 to 2005, nine Black girlfriends deliver insights and punchlines in equal measure, touching on politics, race, relationships, and everything in between. Tayari Jones says that Brandon-Croft’s work has “aged beautifully,” hailing the collection as “both ahead of its time and right on time.” —Evan Allgood Brutes by Dizz Tate This surreal and ambitious debut novel, written partially in first-person plural and billed as “The Virgin Suicides meets The Florida Project,” follows a clan of teenaged girls in Falls Landing, Florida, as they grapple with the disappearance of the local preacher's daughter. Brutes’s adolescent cast, time-jumping narrative, and promise of violence evoke the hit show Yellowjackets. Mariana Enríquez calls it “a beautiful and deeply strange novel, full of dread and longing.” —EA City of Blows by Tim Blake Nelson I love movies, but Hollywood—both the city and the industry that undergirds it—has never much interested me. Honestly, celebrity culture in America baffles me. But when a Hollywood insider and an accomplished playwright—and, not to mention, a fine actor—decides to satirize the toxic culture of Tinsel Town, I’m in. Nelson's debut novel follows four men fighting for control of a script and a place in a rapidly transforming Hollywood. There’s something sustaining in a story that shows how beautiful people can be just as petty—just as ugly—as the rest of us. —Il’ja Rákoš Couplets by Maggie Millner Lovers of horny, rhyming poetry rejoice: Millner’s “love story in poems,” arrives a week before Valentine’s Day, just in time to tie your brain to its bedposts. Kink and queerness, power and polyamory—this debut by the senior editor of the Yale Review has it all. Read an excerpt in BOMB to see why Elif Batuman, Garth Greenwell, and Leslie Jamison are all head over heels for this clever, seductive story of coming out and coming of age. —EA The Black Guy Dies First by Robin R. Means Coleman and Mark H. Harris This collaboration between Coleman, a scholar, and Harris, a journalist and film critic, explores the history of Black horror films since 1968. Named for the well-known cinematic trope, the book spans cult classics like Spider Baby up to commercial and critical successes like Get Out. According to Kirkus Reviews, the book is written with “keen observation, a satirical eye, and a genuine love for the subject.” —Edan Lepucki Big Swiss by Jen Beagin "A sex therapist's transcriptionist falls in love with a client while listening to her sessions"—that was all I needed to hear to get excited about Beagin's third novel. Throw in blurbs from Melissa Border and A Touch of Jen author Beth Morgan, and I was all but convinced that Big Swiss will be weird and horny and unfettered in all the best ways. "Pick it up because you like cheese," Morgan urges, "stay for the brilliant sentences." —SMS Culture: The Story of Us, From Cave Art to K-Pop by Martin Puchner So many books these days are described as being "sweeping histories"; Culture, which promises in its subtitle to take us from our most primitive artistic impulses all the way to the machinery of modern-day fandom. But what intrigues me most about Puchner's latest isn't its scope—it's its driving question: "What good are the arts?" In my more hopeless moments, this question bubbles up inside me, and I'm chomping at the bit to hear Puchner's answer, grounded in history and informed by cultures around the world. —SMS Dyscalculia by Camonghne Felix Following her poetry collection Build Yourself a Boat, which landed a spot on the National Book Award longlist, Camonghne Felix makes her nonfiction debut with this memoir, which charts a life-changing breakup and its many consequences for her life. When the author ends up in the hospital, she draws a parallel between her troubles as an adult and her childhood diagnosis of dyscalculia, a condition which makes it difficult to learn math or estimate place value. As she starts to tally her romantic miscalculations, she asks a wide-ranging question: who gets the right to freely express their own pain? —TB All the Beauty in the World: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Me by Patrick Bringley A former New Yorker staffer turned museum guard is a pretty compelling tagline, to be certain, and Bringley delivers in this intimate and philosophical debut memoir—he muses on the artworks, coworkers, and museumgoers that surround him. Adding poignancy to the memoir's conceit, his observations are all permeated with profound grief as he reels from the death of his older brother. Bringly brings the Met to life on a grand scale and granular level. —NR The Wife of Willesden by Zadie Smith For her first foray into playwriting, novelist and essayist Smith reimagines Chaucer’s Canterbury Tale about the Wife of Bath for twenty-first century, northwest London. Alvita, a Jamaican-born British woman in her early fifties, tells her life story to strangers in a pub. In its review, The Guardian calls it “a celebration of community and local legends, of telling a good story and living a life worth telling. Not bad for an original text that’s 600 years old.” —EL Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World by Malcolm Harris I went to college in the Bay Area, where the allure of Silicon Valley was palpable. My classmates posted about their internships at Twitter and Microsoft, wore t-shirts with emblazoned with the logos of Google and Linkedin, and went on to get jobs with six-figure starting salaries. I remembered my dad's quaint stories of growing up in nearby Los Altos and struggled to reconcile that history with the present. Harris's comprehensive history of Silicon Valley, from railroad capitalism to free love to big tech, does just that. Palo Alto spans centuries in order to thoroughly demystifying the region's economics and unearth its enduring legacy of settler colonialism. Users by Colin Winnette I worked for years as a consultant at American-based IT companies with teams in Kyiv, and among those Ukrainians I knew who were handling the code, it was rare to find anyone who worshipped Steve Jobs, loved tech, or saw STEM work as anything particularly noble. No true believers in panaceas or "essential" tech. Here, in the fictional world of Winnette’s latest novel, we encounter a strong critique and timely caution that my Kyiv ITshnyks certainly understood well: the devastation that awaits when we entrust the mechanisms we’ve built to do our thinking, our feeling, and our living for us. —IR I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai In her follow-up to her 2018 novel The Great Believers, a Pulitzer and National Book Award finalist, Makkai brings us to a New Hampshire boarding school. Film professor Bodie Kane has been eager to forget her four awful years there, which included a murder of a classmate by the athletic trainer. But when she's brought back to campus to teach a two-week course, everything she thought she knew about the case is thrown into question. Makkai plays with true-crime tropes to deliver a literary exploration of friendship. —Marie Myung-Ok Lee Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears by Michael Schulman Michael Shulman is one of the great profile-writers of our time, and one of our best writers, period. (His New Yorker profiles of Jeremy Strong, Bo Burnahm, and Adam Driver long ago took up permanent residence in my brain.) What Schulman, a student of personality, could accomplish in a study of the Oscars—that most official of personality contests—is limitless. It's also just a perfect opportunity to spill so much celebrity gossip. I imagine devouring this book poolside, while sipping on a blue drink; a big umbrella overhead, a little umbrella in my glass. Slime by Susanne Wedlich, translated by Ayca Turkoglu  Primordial slime has long been considered a cornerstone of life on Earth; without it, the natural world would be unrecognizable. Slimy substances like mucous and slobber are also common features of fictional monsters in popular culture from Lovecraft to Alien. Munich-based science and nature journalist Susanne Wedlich’s ode to the semi-liquids that hold our world together—and our minds in awe—reminds us “we are sticky beings living in a sticky place” (TLS), whether we like it or not. —JW March Monstrilio by Gerardo Sámano Córdova What lengths would you go to get back someone you've loved and lost? Just for a bit, to look in their eyes one more time, or tell them what needed to be told? But play that possibility out to its inevitable conclusion and it’s difficult to envision anything good coming from it. In  Córdova’s horror debut, a grieving mother in Mexico City goes to unimaginable extremes to bring her late 11-year-old son back to life, only to discover that there are worse things than death. Grief, she learns, is not something to be trifled with, or worse, avoided. —IR Francisco by Alison Mills Newman Though it garnered plaudits from Toni Morrison when it was first published in 1974, Newman's autobiographical novel has long been out of print. Now, a reissue by New Directions—with a new foreword by Saidiya Hartman—promises to introduce a new generation of readers to Newman’s innovative and genre-bending story, which draws on the author’s experience as a young actress in 1960s Hollywood. —TB The Fifth Wound by Aurora Mattia In her new novel, the Mattia reinvents the roman à clef with a magical realist memoir that puts the dusty genre of autofiction to shame. Sifting from multiple narratives—and dimensions—The Fifth Wound is a romance, a meditation on transphobic violence, and a speculative tale of time travel, ecstatic visionaries, and mystical union. Transcending the limiting confines of not just society, but reality as well, and Mattia’s novel promises the reader an experience that recalibrates simplistic notions of truth and fiction, reality and illusion.  —ES Saving Time by Jenny Odell I love books that force me to recognize or reconsider the structure of existence—and Odell’s book does just this, in a way that's both enlightening and generative. Her previous book, How to Do Nothing, was a runaway hit about what happens when we subvert the temporal expectations that are placed upon us: “Letting go of one overwhelming rhythm, you invite the presence of others. Perhaps more important, you remember that the arrangement is yours to make.” Odell demonstrates how it's never too late to save the time we have left. —NR The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe In 1958, at the age of 27, Rona Jaffe published her first novel, a revolutionary portrait of three young women employed at a New York publishing house. Renowned for its frankness and honesty, particularly in its depictions of sexual harassment, The Best of Everything is, per Michele Moses, “what you would get if you took Sex and the City and set it inside Mad Men’s universe.” Now, for its 65th anniversary, Penguin Classics is reissuing the novel, complete with a new introduction by New Yorker staff writer Rachel Syme, who is the perfect voice to prime us for a retro romp through postwar New York and its attendant glitzy patina. —TB Raving by McKenzie Wark Wark's entry into Duke University Press's Practices series, which spotlights the activities that make us human, invites us into the underground queer and trans rave scene of New York City. A bombastic collision of sound and movement, raving is, to Wark, the ideal activity for "this era of diminishing futures." An avid raver herself, she blends academic analysis with her own first-hand accounts, all relayed with sensual, staccato prose. "Some come to serve looks; some come to leave their sweat on the dance floor," she writes. "I’m the latter kind. I want to be animate and animated on the floor." —SMS Still Life with Bones by Alexa Hagerty From 1960 to 1996, more than 200,000 Guatemalans were killed, and tens of thousands more disappeared, after an American-backed coup gave rise to a steady march of genocidal dictators. Decades later, anthropologists like Alexa Hagerty are working to exhume and examine the dead, piecing together their bodies and their stories in an urgent but potentially quixotic quest for resolution, and attempting to bring a sense of humanity to the forensic sciences. —EA How to Think Like a Woman by Regan Penaluna In her first book, journalist Penaluna, who has a PhD in philosophy, explores the oft-forgotten and under-taught feminist philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: Mary Astell, Damaris Masham, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Catherine Cockburn. Blending biography, criticism, and memoir, Penaluna explores the lives and beliefs of these thinkers, as well as the ways women—past and present—have been devalued within philosophy, academia, and history. How  to Think Like a Woman serves as an alternate philosophical canon, where women and their intellect are deeply and rigorously examined. —Carolyn Quimby Y/N by Esther Yi “Y/N,” short for “[Your/Name],” refers to a type of fanfiction that allows readers to insert their own names into brackets in the story, so as to imagine themselves in romantic scenarios with popular idols. In Esther Yi’s debut novel, our narrator devotes herself to writing fanfic about a K-pop star named Moon. When Moon suddenly retires and retreats from the spotlight, the narrator embarks on a transnational search that unveils the absurd innards of a Korean entertainment company, as well as the loneliness of modern life and the various fantasies we enact to try to escape it. Yi, a Leipzig-based writer, has earned comparisons to Elif Batuman, Thomas Pynchon, Yoko Tawada, and Marie NDiaye. —JW How Not to Kill Yourself: A Portrait of a Suicidal Mind by Clancy Martin Clancy Martin has tried to die by suicide more than 10 times. In How Not to Kill Yourself, he speaks frankly about these attempts and the thoughts that fueled them. In probing his own experiences, he inevitably comes to larger conclusions about the nature of the self-destructive mind and the philosophy of suicide. He also turns to other writers who have attempted suicide and written about it, from Yiyun Li to David Foster Wallace. Written with surprising tenderness and humor, this memoir-cum-critical-inquiry is a perspective-shifting study. Biography of X by Catherine Lacy With a title that recalls both Alex Haley’s biography of Malcolm X and Gertrude Stein’s consideration of her partner Alice B. Toklas, Lacey audaciously explores the contingencies of identity, memory, and history in her latest experimental novel. Lacey’s novel takes place in an alternative history where the American South separated from the United States and was governed as a fascist theocracy only recently being reabsorbed into the wider nation. Ostensibly The Biography of X is about the titular unknown, a celebrated but mysterious artist, and her widow’s account of that life as much as can be assembled. But with cameos by such twentieth-century luminaries as Sontag and Bowie, the novel is also a biography of American art and theory which understands that sometimes history is best understood at a slant. —ES The Last Catastrophe by Allegra Hyde This collection of 15 stories by the author of Eleutheria continues Hyde’s interest in humanity grappling with climate change. Alexandra Kleeman writes that these speculative stories are “dazzling, inventive, and glinting with dark humor.” Spaceships, AI, zombies, and body-switching abound. I, for one, am most excited to read the story about the girl growing a unicorn horn! —EL The New Earth by Jess Row A century which began with 9/11, and has so far seen economic collapse, a ground war in Europe, a global pandemic, and the rise of neo-fascism is painfully interesting. Jess Row’s latest novel interlays these interesting times on a family drama among the privileged Wilcoxes of the Upper East Side, from 2000 to 2018. The global perspective becomes synonymous with the vantage point of daughter Winter Wilcox, who on the eve of her wedding must grapple not just with her estranged family, but the ways in which her personal tragedies from years coincide with both parental secrets and historical injustices. “Disguising your origins is a deeply American impulse,” Row wrote in 2014, “but that doesn’t make it any less compromising,” a theme heartily interrogated in The New Earth.  —ES Chlorine by Jade Song Song's debut novel revolves around high-schooler Ren Yu, a competitive swimmer who spends her days in the pool. Her immigrant parents expect her to train hard and secure a college scholarship, but she aspires to transform into a mermaid, freeing herself from the terrestrial world. A spiky, sapphic coming-of-age that embraces fantasy and horror to explore girlhood and its discontents. —JQ In Search of a Beautiful Freedom by Farah Jasmine Griffin A new volume of collected essays both new and previously published by Farah Jasmine Griffin, the William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African American Studies at Columbia. Following her last book Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature, these new and previously unpublished essays range in topic from Covid to the efforts to ban Toni Morrison to the life work of Odetta. Griffin's insights into Black music, feminism, and literature are unparalleled. —LK Affinities by Brian Dillon When I read Dillon's previous books, Essayism and Suppose a Sentence, I considered them a diptych: two close looks at two literary forms (the essay and the sentence) that were driven by what Dillon himself calls his own "affinity." It turns out, Essayism and Suppose a Sentence were really the first two entries in a triptych! His latest book, Affinities, centers on images, from photographs to paintings to migraine auras. Why do images make us feel the way they do? Why are we drawn to certain images over other ones? Dillon is one of my favorite writers, thinkers, and close-readers, and I can't wait to read him on the pleasures of looking. —SMS Above Ground by Clint Smith I long for a literature—especially a poetry—of joy; life is too short and bland without it. Smith’s new poetry collection teems with images of love and fatherhood. Great poetry comes in many modes and subjects, but there’s something unique about a book of verse that makes me want to hold my own children a little tighter, as I think of his description of delivering a bear hug: “my arms are still / open like a universe / in need of a planet / to make it worth / something.” Juxtaposed with lines of grief and recognition—“men attempting / to unlearn the anger on their father’s / tongues, the heat in their hands”—Smith’s songs of joy are that much sweeter. —NR Ada's Room by Sharon Dodua Otoo, translated by Jon Cho-Polizzi Otoo's debut novel is about four women, all with the same name: Ada, a mother in fifteenth-century West Africa; Ada Lovelace, the real-life programmer in Victorian England; Ada, a prisoner in a concentration camp in 1945; and Ada, a young Ghanian woman in present day. As Otoo connects their narratives across centuries, the linear confines of history break down and a profound sorority comes into focus. R.O. Kwon calls this one "thrillingly, astonishingly original." —SMS April This Is Not Miami by Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes Taking place in and around the Mexican city of Veracruz, this collection of crónicas—narrative nonfiction pieces that blend reportage with novelistic structures—explores the criminal underworld, shedding light on social problems that manifest in gory headlines. As in her novels Paradais and Hurricane Season, Melchor draws empathetic portraits of deeply unsympathetic figures, forcing her readers to understand the mindsets of monstrous characters. —TB Chain Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah Ever since the moment I finished Adjei-Brenyah’s surreal, satirical, and original debut story collection, Friday Black, I’ve been not-so-patiently waiting for whatever he wrote next. In his upcoming debut novel, two female gladiators fight to the death for their freedom on the hugely popular and controversial TV show, Chain-Gang All Stars, which airs on CAPE (Criminal Action Penal Entertainment). With his sharp eye for satire and reverence for humanity, Adjei-Brenyah’s latest explores the exploitation, violence, and false promises of the prison industrial complex, capitalism, and the country itself. —CQ Work-Life Balance by Aisha Franz, translated by Nicholas Houde This graphic novel, which was originally a comic series published by Colorama, concerns three friends who, disillusioned with their work lives, seek help from the same therapist. Franz, who lives in Berlin, was nominated for a Los Angeles Times book prize for her previous book, Shit is Real, which the Guardian called “a wise and funny journey through loneliness and confusion.” Her latest sounds just as promising. —EL Ordinary Notes by Christina Sharpe The latest book by scholar of English literature and Black Studies Christina Sharpe takes the form of a series of 248 notes on history, art, literature, and life whose meanings accumulate over the course of nearly 400 pages. At the center of the resulting polyphonic portrait of Black existence is the figure of Ida Wright Sharpe, the author’s mother. Saidiya Hartman calls Ordinary Notes "an exquisite text" that "demands everything of the reader and, in turn, offers us a vocabulary for living.” —JW A Living Remedy by Nicole Chung Chung's bestselling memoir All You Can Ever Know, published in 2018, cemented her as one of this generation's great chroniclers of family, both adoptive and biological: its limits and possibilities, what it means, how it shapes us. Her follow-up, which follows Chung as she mourns her parents and navigates the institutional inequities baked into American society, promises to be just as poignant. Blurbers Megha Majumdar, Julie Otsuka, Imani Perry, and Bryan Washington certainly think so. —SMS Second Star: And Other Reasons for Lingering by Philippe Delerm, translated by Jody Gladding A runaway hit in France, Second Star is a collection of vignettes about life's smallest and simplest moments, from washing your windows to peeling a clementine. With evocative descriptions of taste, touch, and sound, Delerm zeroes in on the sensations and pleasures that, while often overlooked or taken for granted, can make us feel most alive. Linger in the moment, he says, stay a while—be here, now. —SMS Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld  I first encountered Curtis Sittenfeld in high school, when my dad's then-girlfriend gifted me a copy of Prep. It was smart and sexy and felt like a portal into womanhood, which I was on the precipice of. Sittenfeld knows how to write romantic comedy without ever slipping into the saccharine, the chivalrous, the cliche. (Also, Brandon Taylor is a fan!) So I can't wait for her new rom-com, about a comedy writer whose decision to swear off love is rocked when she falls for a pop star. —SMS Sea Change by Gina Chung Chung's debut centers on thirty-something Ro who feels stalled in her life—heartbroken after a breakup, father missing, mother remote, friends drifting away. She's also stagnating at her job at a mall aquarium, where one of her favorite sea creatures (and last remaining link to her father), an octopus named Dolores, is about to be sold to a wealthy investor intent on moving her to a private collection. Joseph Han called Ro one of his favorite Korean American characters of all time. —MML The One by Julia Argy Argy’s debut novel, about a woman who’s a contestant on a Bachelor-style dating reality show, has garnered some killer blurbs. Julie Buntin writes, “I could not stop reading Julia Argy’s smart, funny, and tender debut novel about falling in love and finding oneself on and offscreen,” and Claire Messud calls it “riveting, astute and darkly comic.” —EL Without Children by Peggy O'Donnell Heffington As a mother of three myself, I’m interested in why people become parents—or don’t. In Without Children, Heffington, a historian of gender, explores the long history of women who did not become mothers, for a variety of reasons. Situating what seems to some to be a modern phenomenon within a larger historical context, this one seems like an essential read. Ada Calhoun deems it a “timely, refreshingly open-hearted study.” —EL The Double Life of Benson Yu by Kevin Chong I hear the word “metafiction” and I usually figure I’m in for a cerebral workout and probably a headache. While Chong’s story of a graphic novelist focusing on his art in an attempt to process his difficult youth is indeed a workout, it’s also a hugely engaging, headache-free read about a world, Chinatown, and a creative outlet, graphic arts, that I know nothing about. Yes, there is a lot of darkness in this story, episodes that could present challenges to some readers, but ultimately the heft of this novel lies in its powerful reminder that unless we confront our demons, we’ll never exorcise them. —IR Arrangements in Blue by Amy Key An essay collection about unpartnered life set to the soundtrack of Joni Mitchell's Blue—so thoughtful of Amy Key to write a book specifically and exclusively for me! Looking back at her past romantic longings and collisions, Key considers the (inflated?) value of romantic love and finds her contradictory feelings on the matter reflected in Mitchell's lyrics. There's nothing poor-me about Arrangements in Blue; in Key's hands, solitary life becomes more capacious—and more complicated—than I ever thought possible. —SMS The Ugly History of Beautiful Things by Katy Kelleher In this deeply researched collection of essays, Paris Review contributor Katy Kelleher explores the hidden histories of our favorite luxury goods, revealing how even the most beautiful objects have dark, unsavory backgrounds. In a blend of historical, scientific and autobiographical writing, Kelleher explains why some red lipstick contains beetle shells, why certain perfumes include rodent musk, and why a fancy class of dishware is made with the ashes of cow bones. Along with helping us understand how these objects came to signify beauty, Kelleher reveals the price workers pay to bring them to us – and suggests a few ways we can ethically appreciate their products. —TB May Written on Water by Eileen Chang It is no exaggeration to say Eileen Chang has shaped our perceptions of modern cities in China. Before her, big cities were monstrous, with myriads of people often seen as sordid sinners. Chang portrayed Shanghai and Hong Kong as the intersections of tradition and modernity, of the East and the West. The pleasures of modernity embody new ways of life. The subtleties of everyday life signify people’s pursuit of happiness. Chang is sharp, rebellious, and unique. You will find even her examination of Shanghainese food eerily resonating. —JQ Homebodies by Tembe Denton-Hurst  When Mickey Hayward loses her coveted media job, she pens a scathing letter about the racism and sexism she's encountered in the industry. It's met with silence and soon forgotten, until a media scandal catapults the letter—and Mickey—back into the spotlight. This witty take on fame, media, and the institutions that rule our lives, Homebodies already garnered blurbs from Danielle Evans, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, and Bryan Washington. —SMS Quietly Hostile by Samantha Irby If you’ve read Irby’s previous collections, or even skimmed her Instagram, you’re likely waiting for her next book of hilarious essays. This one sounds promising: it has a skunk on the front and covers everything from working in Hollywood, to getting a “deranged pandemic dog” (per the jacket copy), to being turned away from a restaurant for being dressed inappropriately. I can’t wait! —EL Dances by Nicole Cuffy At the age of 22, Cece Cordell is catapulted to fame when she becomes the first Black principal dancer in the history of the storied New York City Ballet. But her achievement doesn’t feel right, and she she soon embarks on a journey to find a missing older brother— and the pieces of herself that have been devoured by the voracious machinery of the highly competitive ballet world. This debut novel by the author of a decorated work of short fiction, 2018's Atlas of the Body, is an examination of the physical and spiritual costs all artists must pay in the pursuit of their art. —BM Monsters by Claire Dederer How to separate the art from the artist? A question I—and most cultural critics—have been wrestling with for a long time now. In Monsters, Claire Dederer takes a stab. Inspired by her Paris Review essay, "What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?," Dederer takes on Hemingway and Picasso, Miles Davis and Roman Polanski, to construct a deeply personal theory of art, genius, and cruelty, written from the perspective of both a critic and a fan. I've been counting down the days to this one for a while. —SMS Dykette by Jenny Fran Davis In her blurb for Davis's debut novel, the writer Samantha Hunt tells me everything I needed to know: "Like a tightly rolled spliff passed around the room," she writes, "you will inhale Dykette." Following three queer couples on a 10-day country getaway, Dykette takes on desire, debauchery, and destruction through a distinctly queer—and propulsively entertaining—lens. —SMS Avidly Reads Screen Time by Phillip Maciak Phillip Maciak is one of the best TV critics alive right now, full stop. Whether he's writing about Girls or Station Eleven or Bluey, his criticism is always characterized by wit, insight, and a remarkable propensity for close-reading. So yes, I was over the moon to learn about his new book of cultural criticism and history, Avidly Reads Screen Time, about how we define screens and how they define us. There are three Mad Men screen caps within the book's first 30 pages, so, yeah, it's gonna be ridiculously good. —SMS Thinning Blood by Leah Myers Leah Myers is likely the last official member of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe as a consequence of blood quantum laws. In a work of memoir and family excavation of her ancestors lives' in the Pacific Northwest, Myers explores the meaning of legacy, documentation, belonging, and weaves between and together her own life, the lives of her ancestors, and the hypotheticals of future generations.  —LK King: A Life by Jonathan Eig Martin Luther King Jr. has, at this point, been flattened into an icon. The Selma to Montgomery march, "I Have a Dream," his assassination—this is what his life has been boiled down for many of us, and in the American imagination as a whole. King the leader, the orator, the pastor, the martyr—what about King the man? Eig's forthcoming tome on King, the first full biography in decades, contains new research and shines a fresh light on King's life, relationships, and interiority. —SMS A Life of One's Own: Nine Women Writers Begin Again by Joanna Biggs I've recently realized that I will read just about any book of nonfiction that has the word "women" in the title. A Life of One's Own is no exception, though the draw certainly does not end at its title. Biggs's latest combine memoir, criticism, and biography (my favorite literary concoction) to study how women writers across the centuries—Plath, Woolf, Morrison, et al.— have carved out freedom for themselves in their lives and work. (I suspect this one will be a great companion to the aforementioned How to Think Like a Woman.) —SMS The Late Americans by Brandon Taylor Everyone’s favorite Booker Prize shortlister, national bestseller, Story Prize winner, Henry James prefacer, litcrit-newsletter purveyor, tweet-sender, and sweater-enjoyer Brandon Taylor, returns in May 2023 with The Late Americans. Like his acclaimed 2020 novel Real Life, The Late Americans is set in a small midwestern college town; also like Real Life, it is more accurately set in its young characters’ exquisitely sensitive and private psyches. Its three protagonists, and a larger constellation of midwestern eccentrics, artists, and academics, confront and provoke one another in a volatile year of self-discovery leading to a trip to a cabin where they bid goodbye to their former lives—a moment of reckoning that leaves each of them irrevocably altered.  —Adam O'Fallon Price The Lost Journals of Sacajewea by Debra Magpie Earling Earling reimagines the well-trodden tale of Sacajewea and her role in the fateful expedition of Lewis and Clark in this historical novel. Endowed agency, authority, and interiority, Earling's Sacajewea rewrites the version of herself handed down through American history. Her life before the expedition comes into vivid focus, as do her complicated feelings about her role in charting the course for American imperialism. Night of the Living Rez author Morgan Talty praises this "transcendental work of literature" as "striking" and "elegant." —SMS On Women by Susan Sontag, edited by David Rieff Susan Sontag, Merve Emre—the collab of the century? I'll read anything by either writer, so I will of course be reading this. Sontag's takes on feminism, sexuality, beauty, fascism, aging, and more are the focus of this seven-essay collection, introduced by Emre and edited by Sontag's son David Rieff. Always drawn to the grey, the murky, the complicated, here Sontag considers the ubiquitous, amorphous forces that shape women's lives with her characteristic curiosity and authority. —SMS Lesbian Love Story by Amelia Possanza In her debut memoir, Brooklynite Possanza dives into the archives to recover the stories of twentieth-century New York lesbians. Sifting through records she finds role models and cautionary tales, juicy gossip and heart-wrenching regret. Writing with empathy, wit, and imagination, Possanza constructs a personal, political, and romantic history of lesbian life and love. —SMS June Where Are Your Boys Tonight?: The Oral History of Emo's Mainstream Explosion 1999-2008 by Chris Payne Emo exploded just as I gained consciousness as a human being with aesthetic tastes. For me, and many of my peers, emo music was a formative force in our lives, enunciating the frustration and darkness that many of us found ourselves newly harboring as adolescents. So I can't wait to read Chris Payne's oral history of the genre, which uses interviews with My Chemical Romance, Paramore, Panic! at the Disco, Fall Out Boy, and more to reconstruct emo's meteoric ascent and profound cultural footprint. —SMS Wannabe: Reckoning with the Pop Culture That Shapes Me by Aisha Harris Harris, host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, always has a take. Movies, TV, music—she's got an opinion and she's excited to tell you about it. Adapting her radio presence into book form, Wannabe sees Harris turning her talents for critique and criticism inward, looking at the media that has shaped her life and examining its effects. From Clueless to the Spice Girls, New Girl to Chance the Rapper, Harris teases out the connections between her identity and her love of pop culture with wit and elan. —SMS Rivermouth: A Chronicle of Language, Faith, and Migration by Alejandra Oliva Oliva is a writer, translator and immigration activist who has translated for people seeking asylum along the US-Mexico border since 2016. In this work of memoir and journalism, which won a 2022 Whiting Nonfiction Award, Oliva describes her experiences of translation, describes her own Mexican-American family's relationship to the border, and interrogates notions of citizenship and belonging. —LK I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home by Lorrie Moore Moore's first novel since 2009's A Gate at the Stairs, I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home (that title!) is a ghost story set in the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries about grief, devotion, and narrative. I'll be honest, I have no idea what this book is actually going to be about (the descriptive copy sums up the plot thusly: "A teacher visiting his dying brother in the Bronx. A mysterious journal from the nineteenth century stolen from a boarding house. A therapy clown and an assassin, both presumed dead, but perhaps not dead at all . . .") but the intrigue makes it all the more anticipated. —SMS Directions to Myself: A Memoir of Four Years by Heidi Julavits  My first introduction to Julavits was 2015's The Folded Clock, which I read the week after I first moved to New York, back in 2020. I've been waiting for her next book ever since. It's finally here—Directions to Myself sees Julavits studying what she calls "the end times of childhood." She writes about her son's upbringing as well as her own to find answers about motherhood, family life, and growing up. George Saunders calls it "an absolute stunner." I predict I'll feel the same. —SMS [millions_email]

How Many Errorrs Are in This Essay?

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A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals to discovery. James Joyce, Ulysses (1922)  Technically known as "sorts," the letters a print setter used were crafted from copper and stored like tiny inked seeds in a wooden case. Capitalized letters were kept in the top portion (hence "upper case") and those that weren't were stored in the bottom (thus "lower case"). Carefully fastened into an iron composing stick, the printer would spell out words and sentences which would be locked into a wood-frame galley and then organized into paragraphs and pages. Arranging sorts was laborious, and for smaller fonts, such as those used in a Bible, the pieces could be just a millimeter across. Long hours and fatigue, repetitive motion and sprained wrists, dim light and strained eyes—mistakes were inevitable. The King James Version of the Bible has exactly 783,137 words, but unfortunately for the London print shop of Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, official purveyors to King Charles I, their 1631 edition left out three crucial letters, one crucial word—"not." As such, their version of Exodus 20:14 read, "Thou shalt commit adultery." Their royal patron was not amused. This edition was later deemed the “Wicked Bible.” Literature's history is a history of mistakes, errors, misapprehensions, simple typos. It's the shadow narrative of expression—how we fail because of sloppiness, or ignorance, or simple tiredness. Blessed are the copyeditors, for theirs is a war of eternal attrition. Nothing done by humans is untouched by such fallenness, for to err is the universal lot of all of us. Authors make mistakes, as do editors, publishers, printers (and readers). If error were simply an issue of a wrong comma here or an incorrect word there it wouldn't be nearly as interesting, but mistakes undergird our lives, even our universe. They can be detrimental, beneficial, neutral. When Lockheed Martin designed the Mars Climate Orbiter using American units and NASA assumed that they'd used the metric system instead, a discrepancy that resulted in that satellite crashing into the red dust of the fourth planet from the sun—that was a mistake. And when the physician Alexander Fleming left out a culture plate which got contaminated, and he noticed the flourishing of a blue mold that turned out to be penicillin—that was a mistake. Errors in how people hear phonemes are what lead to the development of new languages; mistakes in an animal's DNA propel evolution; getting lost can render new discoveries. Sometimes the flaw is that which is most beautiful.  Certainly, there are no shortage of them. Typographical errors such as those in the 1631 Bible are known as "errata," and despite the incendiary mistake of Barker and Lucas, less salacious typos were common. A 1562 printing of the sternly doctrinaire translation the Geneva Bible prints Matthew 5:9 as "Blessed are the placemakers" rather than "peacemakers;" an 1823 version of the King James replaced "damsels" in Genesis 24:61 with "camels," and as late as 1944 a printing of that same translation rendered the "holy women, who trusted God… being in subjection to their own husbands" in 1 Peter 3:5 as referring to those pious ladies listening to their "owl husbands." But not all errors seemed as innocent—in 1637, an unlucky compositor deleted one letter "s" from the sixth word and the single comma which was to follow it from Luke 23:32, so that it read "And there were also two other malefactors [with Jesus]," those two accidental deletions blasphemously impugning the moral rectitude of the savior. A 1653 printing stated that it was the unrighteous who would inherit the earth, a 1716 edition records Jeremiah 31:34 as telling us to "sin on more," and a 1763 volume replaces the penultimate word "no" with "a," so that Psalm 14:1 reads "the fool hath said in his heart there is a God." Those copies were pulped, the printers fined 3,000 pounds. One wonders if the Lord wasn't sending a message in a 1612 errata where Psalm 119:161 had the first word of the line "Princes" replaced, so that it now read, "Printers have persecuted me without cause."  Christ assured his apostles that he came not to destroy the law, and he might as well have added that he came not to amend, edit, revise, or misquote it either. Precision matters when it comes to scripture. Slipping up when transcribing God's word can have perilous consequences concerning damnation or redemption, but a mistake in the law—and not just God's law—can have pressing repercussions here on earth. Practicing law is, after all, nothing more than being able to interpret ambiguities, but sometimes mistakes are embedded in contract and legislation themselves. Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, Charles Dickens’s fictional Court of Chancery probate case in Bleak House, propels that novel's byzantine plot for 912 pages because of conflicting disputes about a will. "The parties to it understand it least," writes Dickens, "but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises." Much depends on being able to reconcile those mistakes of phrasing, as "innumerable children have been born into the case; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it."  Depending on whether ambiguity is a mistake or a strength, the law often codifies uncertainty. The U.S. Constitution isn't particularly long—only a few pages—and yet it's filled with grammatical and spelling errors, as well as confusing syntax that bedevils contemporary citizens. The word "choose" is rendered "chuse" several times, Capitalization is inconsistent, possessive apostrophes and those of contraction are often dropped, and even "Pensylvania" is misspelled. Much more significant are the idiosyncrasies in punctuation: commas are placed between nouns and verbs, errant commas in the Second Amendment makes it unclear as to whether the right to bear arms is reserved for individuals or only "well regulated militias," and a semicolon in Article VI seems to invalidate the Constitution itself. "The Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land." Strictly speaking, the end stop of that semicolon implies that "all Treaties made," and not the Constitution, shall be the supreme law of the land, and yet we've always just assumed it's an obvious typo.  The Constitution has only a scant 4,543 words, but that a book as large as the Bible—783,137 words!—should see a few letters accidentally left out, even to potentially perilous soul-damning effect, isn't so surprising. Adam Nicholson explains in God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible that when a nineteenth-century scholar "attempted to collate all the editions of the King James Bible then in circulation, he found more than 14,000 variations between them." Nor were such blunders unique to print; anyone working with Medieval manuscripts is familiar with all of the human failings that render an incorrect Greek conjugation or a sloppy Latin declension, but there are even more blatant accidents. Dittography is common—that is, the doubling of a word word because a scribe happened to glance up and lose their place, thus repeating themselves. Homeoteleuton is another frequent peril, which is when a scribe takes a break and returns to where they were writing and, misled by a similar keyword, finishes with a latter sentence from whatever they are copying. Homeoarchy is the accidental deletion of lines; metathesis the reversing of letters in a wrod. An entirely more delightful flaw can be found in a fifteenth-century Croatian manuscript, where splayed across the pages are the inky pawprints of the scribe's cat.  A small blip could be scratched out, but more extensive defects required radical editing.  A copyist of the Abbey Bible, transcribed between 1250 to 1262 in Bologna, happened to leave out several verses from 1 Samuel, while garbling syntax in the ones which he did include. Rather than abandon expensive vellum, decorated with lustrous hues of cobalt, gilt, and burgundy, the scribe crossed out the offending portion with a set of blue and red lines and began over on the following page. Sometimes scribes made apologies in the marginalia for a poor showing; one Medieval Irish copyist explained his errors by writing, "Let me now be blamed for the script, for the ink is bad, and the vellum defective and the day is dark." Another particularly creative fellow, an English scribe from the late thirteenth century, deleted a line by accident, and so on the page's borders he drew a little peasant using a pulley to hoist the missing sentence back into its correct spot. Not even the most beautiful manuscripts were without faults; the ninth-century Irish Book of Kells, its intricate Celtic knot work dyed in indigo and copper, ochre and lapis lazuli, flubs the genealogy of Jesus, while several passages are missing. Yet when the copyist rendered Christ's declaration in Matthew 10:34, which is supposed to read, "I came not to send peace, but a sword," as "I came not only to send peace, but joy," one can't help wonder if it's an error or an improvement.  Returning to the Wicked Bible, the Archbishop of Canterbury George Abbot blamed the perfidious errata on what he saw as a slipshod operation, claiming that their "paper is naught, the composers boys, and the correctors unlearned." The king didn't find it funny, with the ecclesiastical historian Peter Helyn writing in 1669 that "Order was given for calling the Printers into the High-Commission where upon the Evidence of the Fact, the whole impression was called in, and the Printers deeply fined, as they justly merited." Charles I had as many copies destroyed as could be found, the result being that only 15 survive in scholarly libraries; seven in Great Britain, including at the British Library and Oxford's Bodleian; seven in North America, including at the New York Public Library and Yale, and one in Australia. By comparison, the first edition of Shakespeare's folio, printed a decade before in 1623, has a whopping 750 copies that have endured.  A 1632 copy of the King James also printed by Barker and Lucas—an edition which doesn’t say that it's cool to cheat on your wife—is currently selling on AbeBooks for $3,250. By contrast, in 2015 a private buyer purchased a copy of the Wicked Bible from an Orlando book dealer for $99,500. That rarity commands price isn't surprising, but that so often it's the flaw that collectors' eyes wander toward says something. It's the slipup in the American Tobacco Company's release of Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Honus "The Flying Dutchman" Wagner's 1909 baseball card—largely destroyed at the behest of the anti-smoking fielder's demand since they hadn't first received his legal permission—which helped it sell at auction this last August for an astounding $6.6 million. The same reason that an "Inverted Jenny" U.S. Postal stamp that featured an upside-down blue biplane framed by a red border was bought at auction three years ago for $1,350,000 (the original would have been 24 cents). Or the popularity of Elias Garcia Martinez's 1930 workman-like fresco of Christ, which in 2012 was touched up by Cecelia Gimenez, an amateur art restorationist and parishioner at Borja, Spain's Sanctuary of Mercy Church, and who rendered the Messiah not as the suffering servant but as something which looked like a chipper capuchin, leading some wags to christen the new piece Ecce Mono—Behold the Monkey. "The restoration has put Borja on the world map," Gimenez said, "meaning I've done something for my village that nobody else was able to do." Perhaps a failure, and yet because of the 81 year old's accident the church was able to raise over $66,000 for charity. Enough to raise up praise, for as the Wicked Bible reads in another misprint—"Behold, the Lord our God hath shewed us his glory and his great-asse."  There is a sublimity in inadvertency, a profundity in accident. Certainly an inevitability. Perhaps a lyric poet can polish the 14 lines of a sonnet to an immaculate sheen, but an ample preponderance of text is going to accrue some errors, just as no consumer can avoid a few spider legs in their peanut butter and the FDA sets limits on the number of rodent hairs acceptable in your oatmeal. A finished novel will go through rounds of revisions at the hands of the author, sometimes a whole coterie of copyeditors, and any number of eyes that will see it before ink is pressed onto paper, and still a carefully examined book will inevitably have typos. The fact is that these sorts of mistakes, while perhaps embarrassing, are also largely irrelevant, and few notice them other than anal-retentive punctilious prigs. Yet when they're noticeable, they're noticeable. Possibly expensive as well; just ask Jonathan Franzen, whose novel Freedom had a first printing accidentally based on a rough draft, with HarperCollins producing 80,000 error-laden novels and selling a tenth of them in the United Kingdom before noticing. Franzen writes of how a "wealth of experience with mistake-making would have been a comforting resource" in the (corrected edition) of Freedom, but then again, maybe not. There are less disastrous instances as well. Theodor Dreiser's An American Tragedy describes a pair of lovers as being "like two small chips being tossed about on a rough but friendly sea," while Daniel Defoe tells us that Robinson Crusoe stripped naked, swam out to his sinking ship and retrieved supplies, which he then stored in his pockets on the returning laps. As Horace noted, even Homer nods.  When it was claimed that Shakespeare never blotted out a single word, his theatrical colleague and noted frenemy Ben Jonson quipped, "Would he had blotted out a thousand." For all his genius, the Bard was often uninformed or lazy, author of a veritable comedy of errors. The Winter's Tale references landlocked Bohemia as having a coast. In Julius Caesar, Cassius uses a clock some 14 centuries before they were invented, and in The Two Gentlemen of Verona they sail from that titular city to Milan, a geographic impossibility. Those are the mistakes that remain in modern editions, but as Marjorie Garber reminds us in Shakespeare After All, the version that "we have come to admire, revere, quote and cite" is rendered from that which has been "improved and altered over time by the conjectures of editors trying to make sense of what may appear to be gaps or errors." When all literary details are fodder for close reading, every choice of "that" over "which," every single comma, every instance of plotting, then the blunder is a rock that we trip over. Not infrequently that which announces itself as a fault was intentional; when Richard Tottel printed Songes and Sonnets in 1557, an anthology that posthumously reproduced the poetry manuscripts of Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, he "corrected" their visionary prosody; Thomas Wentworth Higginson infamously "cleaned up" the radical punctuation of Emily Dickinson's poems in his 1890 publication; and in 1677 John Dryden "fixed" the blank verse of John Milton's Paradise Lost in the former's libretto The State of Innocence, having decided that what it needed was a plodding rhyme scheme where "In liquid burnings, or on dry, to dwell,/Is all the sad variety of hell."  Some errors are so obvious that there is no need to parse their significance. When William Faulkner makes clear in Sanctuary that a scene takes place at 5:30, and then a few sentences later he writes that it's "almost seven oclock," that doesn't belie some deep metaphysical profundity—it's a screwup. Because of his convoluted editing history, these sorts of gaffes aren't uncommon in Faulkner, with nothing more infamous than the ever-shifting architecture and history of the McCaslin-Edmonds Plantation in Go Down, Moses. Sometimes the house was built in 1813, in other stories it predates 1807; occasionally it's a modest "two-room mud-chinked log half domicile and half fort" and in other descriptions it’s a neo-classical, porticoed, columned, mansion featuring "clapboard and Greek revival and steamboat scrollwork." Faulkner didn't intend for McCaslin-Edmonds to be so mercurial—the flub doesn't mean anything. But in some ways, it means everything. Because a mistake reminds us that fiction is artifice, announcing the illusion to all of us, and reaffirming that it's been crafted by a fallible human. For the writer, every perfect sentence comes from some place higher; every flawed example is irredeemably your own. Furthermore, a slip up uncomfortably announces just how much of composition is unconscious, beyond the mere dictates of planning and a speaking. The error is a window where that force which compels the writer takes a moment to peak out into the world.    Other accidents are more ambiguous than Faulkner's clear continuity errors. In his 1816 poem, John Keats famously compares the experience of his first reading George Chapman's Homeric translations to being "like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes/He stared at the Pacific," except the first European to see the western coast of that ocean was actually Vasco Núñez de Balboa. Did Keats just not know this, or was this intentional? Does the purposefulness or not of the inaccuracy matter to how we read the lyric? Or take Franz Kafka's incendiary beginning to his unfinished 1927 novel Amerika, wherein European émigré Karl Roßmann arrives in New York Harbor and from the bow of his ship he studies the Statue of Liberty, describing how the "arm with the sword now reached aloft." Is this a mistake—did Kafka not know what the statue actually looked like? Is it a comment on the United States, perhaps? It's uncertain, and yet as with all of Kafka's oeuvre, such a strange detail seems pregnant with meaning, even if a slipup. Whether or not it's the wiseman or his opposite who claims, "There is no such thing as a mistake," we can't quite dispel the desire for purpose, and so we read even blunders as having import. Unconsciousness is useful here, for then some part of Faulkner's mind hidden even to himself wanted McCaslin-Edmonds to have its variable description; if Kafka floundered into that martial Statue of Liberty, it must have reflected something deep within.    "A slip of the tongue can be amusing," notes Sigmund Freud in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, "and may be very welcome to the doctor practicing psychoanalytical methods." An instance of Fehlleistung, which in German roughly translates into "faulty performance," and that early English editions rendered as "parapraxis," but which everyone else calls a Freudian slip. These are the fumbled turns of phrase where the unconscious has commandeered the tongue, the mistakes which aren't really mistakes. "For seven and a half years I've worked alongside President Reagan," then Vice President George H.W. Bush said in a speech during his second term. "We've had triumphs. Made some mistakes. We've had some sex—setbacks." The crowd giggles; Freud wouldn't think this misspeaking so innocent. While campaigning for Mitt Romney in 2012, Senator John McCain said, "I am confident with the leadership… President Obama will turn this country around," inadvertently endorsing the governor's opponent. Fehlleistung encompasses tongue slips, events that are misremembered, words that are misheard, and the phrase that cannot be found. Freud argues in An Autobiographical Study that "these phenomena are not accidental… they have a meaning and can be interpreted, and that one is justified in inferring from them the presence of restrained or repressed impulses and intentions." Bush didn't commit a gaffe—he was stating repressed carnal desires (I'll hold to that interpretation). Therapists today place less emphasis on tongue slips, yet it's hard not to think that at least the sentiment behind Fehlleistung is something we intuit. We suspect that we're witness to a confession rather than a trifling error. That's why Charles I punished Barker for his errata—the sin outed itself while his mouth protested innocence.  Psychology remains the science of remedying our mistakes. From psychoanalysis to cognitive behavioral therapy, psychologists work to assist their patients in understanding how delusions, obsessions, compulsions, anxieties, and so on, are based in faulty understanding. Neurotics may fear that there are castles in the sky while psychotics live in them, but both are erroneous about there being anything above other than clouds. We are wrong about fears which are irrelevant and ignore those that are pressing, we return to past sleights and embarrassments that are irrelevant, we are angry at people who are undeserving and admire those who aren't worthy. An argument could be made that fiction is the mode for exploring those misapprehensions, but mistake can't be reduced to conflict, problem, or mystery, though literature certainly explores the tragic implications of error. When error comes up against cold reality the result is often guilt. Think of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," whose narrator murders an old man because of his glassy eye and is driven into a frenzy by what he perceives to be the sound of the dead man's beating heart, believing that "what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the senses." Here an error—a pathology, really—the belief that there is a dead heart loudly beating under the floorboards—reveals a hidden truth. Then there is the initial mistake, if a crime is a mistake (frequently it is), of the narrator's heinous act, based on his own delusions about the nature of his victim.  Failure, which is just a mistake with legs, can be far less ghoulish than it is in Poe's story, even if no less mad. Charles Jackson's arresting novel about alcoholism The Lost Weekend dramatizes how a certain mistake made by those who can't afford it—the fallacy that those of us who are unable to drink can have just one—is repeated to terrible consequence. A counselor explains to Don Burnham, the drunken adman who is the central protagonist, that folks like him "can't bring themselves to admit they're alcoholics, or that liquors got them licked. They believe that can take it or leave it alone—so they take it… promising they'll take one, or at the most two, and—well, then it becomes the same old story." Sometimes the writing itself is the mistake. Journalist Geoff Dyer was tasked with a biography of D.H. Lawrence, but being stalled he wrote a meta-book about his inability to complete the project. "I do everything badly, sloppily, to get it over with so that I can get on to the next thing that I will do badly and sloppily," Dyer writes. His Out of Sheer Rage: In the Shadow of D.H. Lawrence is by definition a blunder, but one where he turns failure into a triumph. "Like it or not you have to try to do something with your life, you have to keep plugging away," Dyer writes, an echo of Samuel Becket's paeon to fucking up when he writes in his play Worstward Ho!, "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." That bit is the portion that ends up in inspirational greeting cards sold at Whole Foods, but the untruncated passage is a bit more despairing. "Or better worse. Fail worse again. Still worse again. Till sick for good. Throw up for good. Go for good," writes Beckett. Some might find this a downer, but I think it's more inspiring.  If writers make mistakes, explore mistakes, celebrate mistakes, and embrace lives that are mistakes, they also can use mistakes. During the Victorian era there was a method of composition which left everything up to chance, codified fortuitous error. Automatism is a method of composition that eliminates flaws from writing by making everything an error. First practiced in the gilded drawing rooms of upstate New York or the English Lake District, where wealthy freethinking women in tight-lace corsets and bustles and their husbands in starched collars sat about tables summoning the dead at seances, automatism involved turning the mind off while writing, so that a person could be a conduit through which words arrived. Whole books were written this way: Spiritualists like Patience Worth claimed that her automatic writing led to poetry and novels from authors living in the hereafter; her contemporary Emily Grant Hutchings asserted that Mark Twain dictated Jap Heron: A Novel of the Ouija Board to her from the astral realms in 1917 (the judge in the ensuing copyright hearing disagreed, concluding that the book was of too poor of a quality to be by Clemons). William Butler Yeats was the most respected author to take automatism seriously, using Ouija boards, tarot cards, and other occult paraphernalia to generate verse which he claimed came from a long dead spirit named Leo Africanus. As one of them wrote, "If spirits seem to stand/Before the bodily eyes, speak into the bodily ears, /They are not present but their messengers." Dadaists and Surrealists practiced automatism so as to indulge Fehlleistung—to make everything a slip. In dismal rooms above shops on the great avenues of Paris and Zurich, the air thick with hash smoke, poets like André Breton and Philippe Soupault ceded authorial intentionality to the whims of their hidden thoughts, letting the fingers on the keys of their Remingtons and within their smudged Moleskins freely perambulate. A heaven with no blockage, entirely structured by what could be seen as error. "Write quickly, without preconceived subject, fast enough so that you will not remember what you're writing," explains Breton in The Surrealist Manifesto. "The first sentence will come spontaneously, so compelling is the truth that with every passing second there is a sentence unknown to our consciousness which is only crying out to be heard." If the unconscious makes possible the mystery of any writing, then the Surrealists were at least honest about that score. "The rail stations were dead, flowing like bees stung from honeysuckle," write Breton and Soupault in their 1919 experimental novel The Magnetic Fields. "The people hung back and watched the ocean, animals flew in and out of focus. The time had come." What does any of that mean? Who knows—least of all its authors. Automatism isn't writing with a few moments of carelessness, its carelessness turned into writing. Paradoxically, in their oracular exactitude, their dream-like logic, such writings seem anything but careless. What Breton promised in his study The Automatic Message was, "Thought's dictation, free from any control by the reason, independent of any aesthetic or moral preoccupation." Error elevated to art.  Surrealists were fascinated with how to cede control. Techniques were developed to force what any conventional artist would consider faults, and to make these their work's basis. The Cut-up technique, made famous by Beat writer William S. Burroughs in Naked Lunch, involved cutting out portions of your own writing and randomly rearranging it, for as "one judge said to the other, 'Be just and if you can't be just be arbitrary.'" Many Surrealist techniques have the feel of parlor games, which is not incidental. Some of the most experimental methods of the Avant-Garde migrated into the sorts of things you may have done at summer camp. Alastair Brotchie writes in A Book of Surrealist Games that through play, Surrealists "subverted academic modes of enquiry, and undermined the complacent certainties of the reasonable and respectable." Exquisite Corpse is the most enduring method of Surrealists, a form of collaborative artistic endeavor where each author offers in turn an adjective, noun, adverb, verb, adjective and noun, from whence the game derives its name after the game's inventors generated the sentence "The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine." Today the game is associated with illustration where it is called Consequences, with one artist drawing the head of a figure, the next participant illustrating a torso, and the final player drawing the lower regions, resulting in a collectively generated chimera. Monsters dwelled in our thoughts long before the Surrealists. A mammoth's skull is unearthed, and somebody assumes that the nasal cavity is the eye socket of a cyclops; dinosaur bones evoke dragons. Albrecht Dürer, the great German painter and printmaker, never saw a rhinoceros with his own eyes, but that didn't stop him from making a 1515 woodcut that remains the most enduring depiction of the animal. Having rendered his drawing from eyewitness accounts of those who did see a rhinoceros brought from India to Portugal, the first since the Roman era, and from a distance Dürer's drawing conjures the idea of the creature, if not the actual species. The printer captures the heft of the rhinoceros, the thickness of its hide and the bulk of its weight, the cumbersome awkwardness of its form. Obviously the horn is there. "This is an accurate representation," the woodcut's German inscription reads, and yet in the details virtually none of it is. Dürer shows the rhinoceros as covered in thick, segmented, armored plates; he has a small horn on his hindquarters, and his scaled legs are clearly that of a reptile. Ganda, the animal's Gujarati name given to him when the rhinoceros embarked from Goa to Lisbon, would drown off the Ligurian coast while being transported to Pope Leo X. A final fatal mistake. Elena Passarello writes of Ganda in Animals Strike Curious Poses with the heartbreaking detail that on his voyage he was wrapped in "green velvet and decked with carnations and gilt rope, perhaps to mimic wedding garb," dressed for an appointment that he'd miss. To those crowds who gathered at Estaus Palace to watch Ganda fight one of King Manuel's elephants (the latter was frightened and ran off), or King Francis I of France who waited in Marseille so that he could see the animal disembark briefly on its way to Italy, or for the Medici Pope who was to add the doomed rhinoceros to his own menagerie, such a beast must have seemed like a divine mistake. His cumbersome heft and pachyderm mouth, Ganda's knobby thick skin and that priapic horn. For Renaissance Europeans, there was something fantastical about a rhinoceros; Dürer's woodcut was the first widely disseminated picture of the species since the first-century quadrans minted during the reign of Domitian when those creatures weren't uncommon in the Colosseum. So distant was the memory of such megafauna, that some assumed Pliny the Elder's description from Natural History of this fierce monster was more myth than animal. Pliny lists two creatures as the rhinoceros' natural enemy; the first is the elephant, and the second is the dragon. When Manuel paraded Ganda through Lisbon, there must have been a sense that God is capable of anything, for the line between a wonder and a freak is thin. So unusual is the long neck of the giraffe, the nose of the elephant, and of course the horn of the rhinoceros, that unless observed with your own eyes it can seem as fantastical as anything in a Medieval bestiary.  Women and men born with unfamiliar variations—the seventeenth-century Spanish courtier Petrus Gonsalvus who along with his children had hypertrichosis and thus appeared to his contemporaries as if he was a wolf-man; John Merrick in the nineteenth-century whose Proteus syndrome caused huge swellings on his hand and face which led to him being exhibited as the Elephant Man; Madame Dimanche, a nineteenth-century Parisian widow who had a ten inch cutaneous horn which grew from her forehead, and looked nothing so much as a rhino horn. Such human beings—human beings—were oft displayed at circuses and carnivals, freaks shows and geek shows, slandered by physician and cleric alike as being "mistakes" within the order of things. "The term freak is actually of some interest," writes Jan Bondeson in The Two-headed Boy, and Other Medical Marvels, "as it originates in the expression 'freak of nature,' implying that the malformed child was a unique, unclassifiable phenomenon, the result of some strange 'maternal impression,' a witch's curse, or divine displeasure." The result of such categorization is predictable—dehumanization, persecution, oppression. Those who didn't match normative expectations were placed first outside the divine order, and later outside the biological order. The result was the same, the slandering of people as being inferior because of physiognomy. The basic, sacred, and inviolate rule is actually rather simple, however—no human being is a mistake. Merrick, a man of uncommon intelligence, grace, and empathy, expressed it well. In letters which he wrote, he would end with a poem by the eighteenth-century hymnologist Isaac Watts: "'Tis true my form is something odd, /But blaming me is blaming God."  Biology doesn't broach "mistakes" exactly, for a variation or mutation or adaptation is neutral in and of itself. It's only in how well suited that variation is to survival that it proves advantageous or not, all of which depends on environment. Ganda's horn may have seemed a fearsome ornament, but as Pliny wrote—albeit with some details a bit shaky—his protuberance was estimably practical; he prepares "for the combat by sharpening its horn against the rocks; and in fighting directs it chiefly against the belly of its adversary, which it knows to be the softest part." Such fortunate oddities are a result of adaptation, of generations of rhinoceroses born with shorter and longer horns, with natural selection sorting out which is better suited. Charles Darwin defines natural selection in On the Origin of Species as simply the "preservation of favorable variations and the rejection of injurious variations," so that a rhino's horn may be well adapted to the rainforest but poorly to a Mediterranean boat. Darwin explains that "any variation, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if it be in any degree profitable to an individual… will tend to the preservation of that individual, and… its offspring." A Galapagos finch's beak which is a bit larger may seem flawed, though better at cracking a nut; a moth's wings that are smudgy looks marred, but it can blend into a smoggy London park better. The mechanism of mutation was a mystery to Darwin, awaiting a fuller understanding of genetics, but if anything this fuller understanding demonstrated how much we owe to mistakes. "Mutations arise from errors made by the machinery that copies or repairs DNA," explains Armand Marie Leroi in Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body, the adaptations which emerge in a species due to the sloppiness of replication at the cellular level. Life itself propagates from the intransigence of error since the very beginning, when a spicy primordial stew of amino acids first coalesced.  Reality itself depends on broken symmetry. Physicists speak so much of elegance—beautiful theories, beautiful mathematics, beautiful equations—that one is tempted to see them as practicing aesthetics. "Physicists love symmetry because it has a mathematical and intuitive beauty," explains Leon Lederman in The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question? Yet there is a lack of elegance deep within our universe. For example, it could be expected that there should be equivalent amounts of matter and antimatter, the latter referring to the mirror-image version of the former, where their quantum numbers—including attributes like charge—are the opposite. Electrons, those elementary particles that circle the nuclei of atoms, have negative charge, but their opposite of a positron has (predictably) positive charge. It would be expected that in a harmonious universe there would be equal numbers of both, but we're lucky that there isn't, because when matter meets antimatter the result is a flash of pure energy. Such an asymmetry is the only reason why anything is here. Considering this inelegance, Lederman sighs that "our depression is tempered by the faith that when all is known, a deeper beauty will be revealed." Quantum mechanics is historically content with garish potentiality, however; particles which are also waves smeared across space, with everything reduced to probabilities. Because Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle says that the exact location of a particle or an amount of energy in infinitesimally small areas is indeterminate, there is a rich virtual mélange of particles forever popping in and out of existence along with their antimatter siblings. That these pairs of virtual particles always come twinned is a bit of cosmic bookkeeping due to laws of conservation, perhaps indicative of that deeper symmetry that Lederman pines for.  Something else here though, because these quantum fluctuations are their own kind of mistake, with uncertainty providing a loan from reality that's paid off in nanoseconds. "They live on borrowed momentum, borrowed energy, and borrowed time," explains Robert Oerter in The Theory of Almost Everything: The Standard Model, the Unsung Triumph of Modern Physics. Because you can never say with utmost certainty that there's zero amount of energy in a vacuum—nothing is ever certain—then there is also nothing that's ever really a vacuum. An explanation of why there is something rather than nothing, that question which has bothered philosophy from the pre-Socratics until today. If reality began with the Big Bang—and all data indicates that it did—the problem still remains of why. Quantum fluctuation provide an explanation—it was all just a mistake from the get-go. That is to say that our universe began just like those virtual particles, in some other place that isn't here. With infinite time it would stand to reason a virtual universe would emerge. As physicist Steven Weinberg wrote in The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe, "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless." Far from nihilism. Anything pointless is also perfect, and nothing is more pointless than nothing. Come again?  In the sixteenth century, Rabbi Isaac ben Solomon Luria Ashkenazi gathered his followers at Safed to contemplate our fallen creation. The Ari, or "Lion," as he was known, had his fellow kabbalists meet the Sabbath at dusk, facing towards Jerusalem and rubbing soil in their eyes, davening Hebrew prayers about the initial rupture in perfection. Wrapping tefillin underneath olive trees, the Ari promulgated a new understanding. Even in traditional Kabbalah, before the beginning, everything was the Ein-Sof, the perfected, incomprehensible, undifferentiated glory of God. The Zohar explains that God "was alone, without form and without resemblance to anything else." Such a Lord was like that singularity which physicists speak of, that perfected state without time and space in which error couldn't exist. But nothing else could either. And as a random quantum fluctuation birthed our reality, the Ari taught that the Ein-Sof contracted within itself so space for the created universe could expand outward, a process called Tzimtzum. The first mistake which made all others possible. But oh, what a beautiful mistake it was! Every joy and every sorrow, every love and every hatred, every triumph and degradation first emerged from a crack in nothing. The imperfection is what is profound, the marring is what is beautiful. The Ari taught that the meaning of our lives was a process of rebuilding that which had been broken—a task of editing, if you will. Tikkun Olam refers to the erasing of those original typos. "And so it is/now and till twilight," the Ari explained about this task of fixing. To delete a comma is perhaps to address an injustice, to add a word is possibly to perform a charity, and all of those little acts of the red pen, all of our collective choices, revising and editing for when all errors will be reconciled again in that final draft. [millions_email]
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