Playing Checkers in Brooklyn: Hope and Resilience in Betty Smith’s Wartime Fiction

Betty Smith Tomorrow Will Be Better cover image

Loving Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn because the Nolan family was Irish? That was a reason I could talk about—because, when I was a girl, being Irish was no longer a shameful thing. But poverty was shameful, and there I was, growing up in a single-parent household dependent on Mother’s Allowance payments. So when I talked about reading the book, I talked about the more acceptable parts of the story, but it was the Nolan family’s struggle to make ends meet—coupled with the related family tensions and the father’s frequent absences—that secured this novel as a true favourite.

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In Defense of Despair

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In Defense of Despair: A Reaction to J.David’s “In Defense of Joy”
by Alex DiFrancesco

This morning, I am watching the sun rise over Lake Erie after a horrific month in a horrific year for the entire world. It’s been particularly bad for me, encompassing a bad health scare, a serious drug relapse, several suicide attempts, and reactionary behavior that lost me some friends. Serendipitously, Brain Pickings has a thoughtful and carefully curated selection of Albert Camus’ thoughts on suicide. Camus rejected suicide, but he did not do it without carefully considering it himself. In fact, he based all his subsequent philosophies on this as the basic question. For me, it is a question that has no firm and lasting answer. Often, my actions and my behavior have pointed to despair and the ending of my own life. Fortunately, which Camus believes is a basic function of life and the human body, I have rejected this over and over. I have made a decision to keep living, though the torment of the notion of suicide as a sane reaction to an insane world has never been something I’ve eluded for long. I originally read Camus far too young, and far too wrapped up in my own despair to not focus on the darkness he insisted was important to look in the eye. I was marked as chronically depressed in mental hospitals through my 20s because I would say things like, “If one doesn’t think deeply about death, every day, how do you find your approach to life?” But that was and wasn’t his point. It is also not my point that this darkness is, will ever be, or should be continual or cultivated. This is a mistake I still make, and I am well-aware of, when not in its throes. But I do defend this darkness as inevitability and something that great understanding, compassion, empathy, and intellect can be derived from. Just as I am finding great joy in the Lake Erie sunrise, I can find deep introspection of this broken Midwestern city night’s dark and desperate hours; just as some are predicated towards, to borrow a phrase on absurdity from Camus, “a donkey eating roses,” some of us are donkeys feasting on garbage. Both, it seems, could lead, if unchecked, to a spiritual and intellectual death. Neither is the right way, or sustainable. 

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Bowl-a-Rama

Bowling

Bowl-a-Rama
by Andrew Farkas

What, bowling? Come on. Bowling? It ain’t a sport. That’s what you tell yourself. I mean, look around. You’ve got your concession stand with the wall menu still uses those plastic letters you’ve gotta stick in the slats, about a quarter of them missing. No matter. Place serves up combos of rapidly congealing grease, salt, and sugar. That sound like an athlete’s diet? There’s a bar. A bar! Fully stocked with beers your dad drinks. American Yellows. Can use those to chase the Old Grand Dad, Old Crow, Old Fitzgerald. Unlike in the wide world of sports, “old …” well, around here that’s a compliment. And it actually means “ancient.” Look at the, are we still going with athletes? Okay. For now. But look at ‘em. On their, sure, why not? field of play. Which is hideous casino carpet leading to scuffed to hell linoleum tile and then a bank of benches and chairs made of that ‘70s two-tone orange & lighter orange plastic (easier to hose off when you slop your coagulated, I guess, food on it, when you spill your whiskey and ginger ale on it), all pointed toward the TVs that automatically keep score for you (wouldn’t want you to strain yourself now), that show you little cartoons based on how the most recent competitor (seriously? wow, just wow) how the most recent competitor rolled, everything surrounded by the loudest, most headache-inducing Day-Glo decorations, usually balls and pins, sometimes swooshes and stars. And now see the contenders, the bowlers. I’m not saying everyone has to look the same. I’m just saying Olympians they ain’t, that is those folks out there on the lanes …

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Punk Rock, Poetry & the Myth of Masculinity 

Jacket with patches

Punk Rock, Poetry & the Myth of Masculinity
by Keith Kopka

From the moment I stole my mother’s copy of Paul Simon’s Graceland, I have rarely gone a day without music. I started my first punk band when I was 14, and I never looked back. Much of my life has been defined not only by the ethos of punk rock, but also by playing it. The same is true of poetry. I read at least one poem every day and have for the last 20 years. It’s been that way since the girl I had a crush on in middle school let me borrow her copy of Howl. I’ve been writing poems since high school, and all of my formal educational focus has been directed towards poetry and poetics.  

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All That Hunger

"The Cipher" cover

All That Hunger
by Kathe Koja

If you write a book about a bottomless hole that appears in a cruddy storage room floor, and call it the Funhole (the hole, not the book, although the book was briefly titled The Funhole until its original publisher insisted on a title change to The Cipher), you are going to get asked a lot of questions. Some of them will be predictably droll, some will be existentially thoughtful, and the great majority of them will be about that hole. Specifically, what exactly is it, a monster? a process? a Freudian metaphor? And what exactly happens in there, why do horrible things—transformative, absolutely, but uniformly horrible—happen to anything that gets too close?

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No Feet

"No Feet"

No Feet
by Tomoé Hill

We have a joke, he and I: the feet. They belong to me—or rather, they are mine, but also exist as sentient, mischievous creatures of their own. There is a photo of me as a very small child, barely one years old. My father is lying on a flower-patterned sofa, face obscured by a book, and I am sitting on his legs, leaning against one of the cushions. My thumb is in my mouth, and a hand idly between my legs. I look blankly content in the way children do at that age, happy to exist and take in their immediate world. My feet are bare and slightly curled, up to no good, as he would say. We have since endowed my feet with a life of their own. Their childish wickedness is blamed when bleary-eyed, I emerge from the bedroom in search of coffee, my silent step nearly frightening the life out of him when he turns round from whatever he is doing to see me standing there, toes curling in glee at their reception, at odds with the rest of my lack of consciousness. Feet represent intuition: fight or flight, standing one’s ground, going feet first into something.

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Can One Write Dystopian Fiction in a Dystopian World?

wall

My name is Seb Doubinsky and I am a writer of dystopian fiction. My stories are all located within a “parallel” world, which is constituted of city-states in lieu of our traditional and familiar countries. You find New Babylon, which is a concentrate of American East-Coast politics and urbanity, New Petersburg, which is the West Coast competing pendent of New Babylon, Viborg City, which symbolizes Scandinavia and the general European cultures, and New Samarqand, which is a mixture of Arab and Persian culture and Central Asia. It is a world that experiences the same problems than our own: economic crisis, social injustice, racism, xenophobia and class prejudice. All my characters are looking for either a way out or a way in, dreaming of a better life or renewed possibilities. Some of my novels are tragic, other comical, and most of them open-ended. I am inspired by all the bad craziness I read about in the papers, watch on TV see on the Internet. 

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Pop Songs For an Unpredictable Time: Notes on Jasmine Dreame Wagner’s “Switchblade Moon”

Switchblade Moon cover

I still rent DVDs through the mail. There’s usually a lag time of six-to-eight months between the time I add a movie to my queue and its arrival. I always forget what I’ve requested by that point and get a kick out of the small-scale time travel, the reminder of what I was thinking months prior. This took a wrong turn back in March. The first three movies to arrive during the onset of the Covid quarantine were Soylent Green, The Omega Man, and The Andromeda Strain. 

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