By Rany Jazayerli The year was 1860, and the world was, as usual, in upheaval. In China, the Second Opium War was coming to an end. America was preparing itself for major surgery, in the form of the Civil War, that would finally cure the young nation of its congenital defect of slavery. And in the…
Cultural criticism: The Sears catalog might well be considered a great work of American literature, having influenced the syntax of advertising, transformed mail-order commerce, and catalyzed America’s (decidedly democratic) language of desire.
In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, media pundits have pinpointed a number of seeming prophets — philosopher Richard Rorty, Supreme Court justice David Souter, the TV show Black Mirror — that anticipated the conditions of the election before they happened. To me, the most salient prognostication of 2016 comes from historian Daniel J. Boorstin’s 1962 book The…
Literary criticism/collage essay: In his literary manifesto Reality Hunger, David Shields argues for artistic plagiarism and the end of traditional narrative. Rolf’s response — embedded in a story about getting drugged robbed overseas — appropriates its own flavor of plagiarism to counter Shields’ argument.
Interview: Rolf talks with travel writer Pico Iyer about his book “The Man Within My Head,” and how art can help us identify parts of ourselves we never otherwise could have articulated.
Interview: Rolf talks with the legendary travel author about technology, traveling light, reportorial accuracy, notions of home, and the “Tao of Travel.”
Essay/Reportage: When allegations surfaced that parts of Greg Mortenson’s memoir “Three Cups of Tea” had been fabricated, reports noted that the book is “required reading” for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Various other branches of the military promote titles like “Freakonomics” and “Starship Troopers.” Why is this the case, and what do these non-military books offer to combat-bound soldiers?
Literary Criticism: Between 1996 and 2002, a spate of British-authored pulp fiction portrayed self-absorbed 20-somethings trying (and failing) to use travel in Asia as an escape from the superficial, directionless, consumerist lives they lead back home. What did these novels predict about the way travel was changing?
Commentary: “In Cuba, Guevara’s ubiquitous image appears to fill the role of both Jesus Christ and Ronald McDonald — a sainted martyr of unwavering purity who also happens to promote a standardized (if not particularly nutritious) political menu.” An analysis of Che’s legacy in light of Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 movie biopic.
Media history: How one nearly forgotten 1920s Kansas publisher’s “Little Blue Books” created an inexpensive mail-order information superhighway that paved the way for the sexual revolution, influenced the feminist and civil rights movements, and foreshadowed the Age of Information.
Book review: For men, reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book is like traveling the world with a lovely and intelligent girlfriend who can’t stop talking about herself: You’ve come to admire this woman — and you wish the best for her — but you wish she’d stop yapping about emotional minutiae so you could both look out and enjoy the scenery from time to time.