Outside Reading — The Twilight Bark edition

 

no excessive

‘NO EXCESSIVE BARKING’: A Chevy Chase dog park divides the rich and powerful by Jessica Contrera

Writing for The Washington Post, with a strong sense of playfulness fully engaged, Jessica Contrera examines a social skirmish taking place in a ludicrously well-heeled Maryland suburb. A dog park was recently opened, leading to embarrassingly entitled complaints from nearby neighbors who believe themselves to be the victims of a grave injustice because of the barking of happy canines and the occasional need for their lawn maintenance serfs to park in a different spot than usual. Because of our current hellscape, every story can turn into another example of economic disparity perpetuated without challenge, morality, or consequence resulting in the privileged few getting their way when they invent persecution. A clear public good — a place by and for the community — can be whittled away so Ms. Edwards can be spared the indignity of listening to a single sound not of her own choosing. There are also, of course, fretful insinuations that outsiders are patronizing the park, and an invasion of the rabble just won’t do. Contrera approaches the topic with the exact right tone: cheerful amusement untainted by countering outrage or a cable news–style escalation of the conflict. And she’s justly proud of landing “sniff one another’s butts” on the Post‘s front page. The picture above was posted on Twitter by Contrera, along with some shots of the adorable cub reporter who accompanied her on assignment.

 

bedbugs

The Unbearable Fragility of Bret Stephens by Jessica Valenti

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, who specializes in pompously arguing bad opinions, endured his own moment of mortification this week when he needlessly harassed a college professor who made an online joke that a bedbug infestation in the venerable newspaper’s offices was actually a metaphor for Stephens’s presence on the masthead. The jibe was little-seen until Stephens amplified it considerably with his churlish, I’d-like-to-speak-to-your-supervisor response. Now the professor’s social media reach has expanded by tens of thousands, and Stephens is pathetically scrambling to make it appear he operates on a higher ground, including an absolutely ludicrous column in today’s paper that employs shaky research to position the bedbugs joke (which was, it must be typed, exceptionally well-structured) as the equivalent of Nazi rhetoric, all without directly referencing the imbroglio of his own making, as if the idea of writing such a piece just came up out of the blue. As I probably could have predicted, the person with the best take on the mess in Jessica Valenti, who is uniquely skilled at decimating the tangled arguments of aggrieved, overconfident men given far too much latitude in their inane, lunkheaded contributions to the public discourse. She wrote about it all for GEN.

 

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self Delusion (2019) by Jia Tolentino

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A preternaturally gifted thinker and writer who has recently helped prove the wisdom of our household’s permanent subscription to The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino recently released her first book. Writing at an age that puts her squarely in the middle of the millennial generation, Tolentino offers several essays that consider what it’s like to exist within the current social structure, a heaving glob of outdated outlooks and progressive engagement, fragile personal connections and unbreakable social media links, of identity that needs to operate without a thousand disparate modes at once. The writing is breezy and conversation, but also deeply, deeply grounded in exhaustive contemplation of the topic at hand, often backed up with impressive research. Tolentino owns her contradictions, in part because there’s no other way for a thinking, feeling person to honestly proceed in an era of constant existential tumult. More than a decade ago, I spent a couple semesters teaching a college media studies class, and I struggled to find strong, thought-provoking readings about modern communication structures for the students. If I were teaching it today, Trick Mirror would be one of the required texts. That’s how well Tolentino addresses, well, everything about living right here, right now.

 

My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018) by Ottessa Moshfegh

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The second novel by Ottessa Moshfegh is set in New York City at the point the twentieth century was giving way to the twenty-first. The first-person narrator is a young woman who is so burdened by the sadness she feels — spurred by the recent death of both her parents, the emptiness of other personal relationships, and the twenty-something uncertainty of what exactly she should do with her life — that she decides sleep is the only acceptable escape, and she indulges in a symphony of pharmaceuticals to minimize her waking hours. Moshfegh’s writing is somehow both dense and light, layered with colorful details and brisk in its pacing. She finds pungent humor in the bleakest of scenarios and makes sure the small handful of characters — some barely represented beyond a few fairly indirect communications with the protagonist — are all vibrantly full in their rendering. My Year of Rest and Relaxation initially seemed slight to me, but its power and authority are cumulative. It’s wickedly inventive and disarmingly poignant.