The Little

  • When the tube stops at Gloucester Road, a man with pink pants sits down across from Allen and begins to eat an emaciated-looking donut. It’s the kind of donut, Allen think, that would be ashamed of itself—a brown, dry thing that might’ve sat in the back of a display case for days, forgotten, crumpling under the heat of fluorescent lights. He remembers seeing one almost exactly like it a week ago, in a grocery store near the Union, the only store open in a street dark and closed off, shutters and blank storefronts, the only sound his shoes on the uneven pavement and the faint shiver of leaves in the chill of a summer wind. He remembers the shock of it, the aisles in the shop stretching out before him, silent, still (it’s nothing like America—the emptiness of it all, even at midnight, there’s always people at the cash registers, not like here, where the only noise is the beep, beep, beep of the self-checkout machines), and he remembers passing the pastry aisle, baskets mostly bare except for crumbs and the odd left-behinds—that donut, not brown, but a pale yellow, powdered with the stick of crumbling sugar, but with the same sense of misplacement, of loss.

  • The best writing is hardest to review. The most essential writing, after all, is essential precisely because it says what no one else can say. It achieves a subtlety of expression that allows for a subtlety of thought which is otherwise impossible. Marilynne Robinson’s voice is, by this definition, essential.

    Robinson recently interviewed President Obama on a podcast and posed for the cover of Poets & Writers Magazine; she is reviewed almost everywhere with near­-pious praise. There’s something mildly distasteful in the fad she is enjoying, driven as it is by the secular liberal hunger, not just for the sacred, but the for the moral authority conservatives claim for Christianity. But the irony of the voguishness of Robinson’s work is that her books are very far from superficial.

  • add insight
    to injury once
    in a blue noon
    a picture’s worth
    a thousand
    birds kill two birds
    in one zone
    devil’s adjective chirp
    on his shoulder straight
    from hose’s mouth variety
    is the spouse
    of life

  • Eyes on the page. Pencil mark prowess: curls and strikes. Wild leaps and slashes of grey ripping blue lines. Scribble that reared into snake and hissed out lightningbolt phlegm. Stick figure with a raised arm morphing into a blooming flower of pendulums.

    “—and a massive earthquake—”

    Line sizzled out flat and Evan dropped his pencil. He looked up. Bush of hair barred the board. The teacher turned to face them, sterneyed.

    “One of the top twenty strongest earthquakes ever recorded on a seismograph,” the teacher was saying, eyes flickering around the room. “Eighty-eight deaths in Sumatra alone. And the amazing and terrifying thing about earthquakes is that they are basically impossible for scientists to predict.” He nodded to a girl in the front row. “Well, we’re out of time, but thank you for an excellent presentation, Riley.

  • I have never felt so stupid as when I am attempting to speak, read, or write Russian. I’ve only been studying it for one year and I already feel the pain. Did you know that there are four different words in the Russian language that all mean “to go”? Each one specifies if you are walking or driving and going in a unidirectional or multidirectional motion. And then you can add a prefix to these same words and get “arriving” or “returning,” “going in” or “going out.” It’s all just madness. And even after almost a year of Russian instruction, I still mess up some of the letters. In the Cyrillic alphabet, the n’s look like h’s and the cursive t’s look like m’s. Class is an utterly humbling (read: humiliating) experience. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I study; I just cannot get above a B on any test.