Terrific, amazing, I thought, as I was shown to the bunk where I’d stay for the first two months of our rehearsal process before our troupe was to spend almost a year in hotels performing Shakespeare around the country. Thrilling, incredible. It was an immense privilege to be a working actor — to be a working actor doing Shakespeare no less — and that feeling of gratitude was in no way mitigated by the hard reality that my four years of state school training was worth $225 a week before taxes, plus a small stipend that would go toward meals and buying our own hotel rooms. As a recent graduate with a BFA in acting, I could have been stuck lip-synching to Buddy Holly at an amusement park or being cast as a Native American in a problematic outdoor drama in Chillicothe, Ohio. But here I was doing something respectable; noble, even.
During my hour-long commute home from work, when I’m too tired to even listen to podcasts, I listen to music. More often than might be healthy, I listen to Lana Del Rey, as she cycles through her doomy refrains about how her life is over, she’s filled with poison, she’s running like mad to heaven’s door. With their frothy melodrama, Lana’s songs tend to match my postwork mood so precisely that it doesn’t feel like listening at all. I don’t have to concentrate or pull myself in. I am already there. Listening, for most of us, doesn’t feel like doing anything. It’s more of a sensation than activity, a dreamy, ill-defined feeling stretching through us. We’re often not aware we are doing it, or even fully conscious. We literally—when we forget to shut off the television or our Spotify playlists—do it in our sleep.
But sometimes I wonder what would happen if we listened harder, or better, or more rigorously. This might seem exhausting. Am I incapable of relaxing? Probably. But music scholars insist that if we listened to music the way a musician would, understanding how notes trigger feelings, how tones take on their own textures and meanings, then we might experience something more visceral and expansive. We could push deeper into every song.
From high up, fifteen thousand feet above, where the aerial photographs are taken, 4121 Wilson Avenue, the address I know best, is a minuscule point, a scab of green. In satellite images shot from higher still, my former street dissolves into the toe of Louisiana’s boot. From this vantage point, our address, now mite-size, would appear to sit in the Gulf of Mexico. Distance lends perspective, but it can also shade, misinterpret. From these great heights, my brother Carl would not be seen.
Essayist Margaret Renkl writes about what she calls "backyard nature," which, to those of us who live in crowded cities, might call to mind creatures to trap or squash, like rats, squirrels, mice and water bugs. Renkl, however, grew up in Alabama and now lives in Tennessee, so her catalog of all creatures great and small is, at once, more expansive and accepting, and includes chickadees, red-tailed hawks, rat snakes, rattle snakes and crawdads.
When I was seven, the blurred world I took for granted was corrected with my first pair of glasses. Wearing them for the first time was a revelation — everything suddenly snapped into place, clear and sharp. And listening to my father's fairy tales while wearing glasses was wondrous — I could see clearly while getting lost.
That's the kind of astonishing illumination you'll find in The Trojan War Museum, Ayşe Papatya Bucak's debut story collection. These are stories that reflect the author's Turkish heritage and a curiosity about our human search for meaning as profound as it is lyrical. The stories are music. They beguile and illuminate with narratives about yearning and desire, circumstance and courage, resilience and discovery. Reading them, while the reading lasts, replaces seeing.
When you're a young adult living in an expensive major metropolitan area, going out to eat is both the joy and the bane of your existence. A joy, because there's a 95% chance your kitchen is tiny or your roommates are using it or there has been no time to pick up groceries in between your long commutes and multiple jobs (or all of the above). A bane, because everything is so damned expensive, no one has enough money and there's always that friend who insists on splitting the bill in half even though they ordered alcohol and a far more expensive dish than you did. James Gregor's charming and well-observed debut novel, Going Dutch, uses this particular financial awkwardness as a running metaphor for the emotional inequalities between his characters.
There are no easy answers, but in the novel’s quietly radical choice of subject matter and its open-eyed, open-hearted curiosity, it illuminates both the intimate dramas usually hidden behind closed doors and the shifting mysteries of personality and relationship.