Culture & Conversation

Posts by Mark Paterson

Sad Songs for Better Living

About a year ago, one of my children, who was nine at the time, asked me what I thought was a rather interesting question. We were in the kitchen and, as is most often the case in our house, there was music playing. I can’t recall the particular song, but it was something by The Smiths, or it might have been Morrissey solo. My daughter turned to me and asked, “Why do people listen to sad songs anyway?”

Corpse Pose

In his essay “The Monster Mash,” David Sedaris recalls, as a child, repeatedly exhuming the bodies of dead hamsters and guinea pigs. His motivation for grave-robbing? A genuine aesthetic interest in what his dead pets’ corpses looked like in various stages of decay. As gruesome that sounds, adolescent fascination with death is, as Sedaris points out, not all that uncommon. “At that age, death is something that happens only to animals and grandparents, and studying it is like a science project, the good kind that doesn’t involve homework.”

Little Brother, Remember the Christmas?

Remember the Christmas when you got into Mom’s purse? They caught you in the closet, lipsticks and keys and coins and tissues on the floor, encircling you like a wreath. You were building a little pyramid of pills, your fingers chalky with pink dust.

Working Girl

Of the many charms that made Once, Rebecca Rosenblum’s 2008 debut, such an outstanding book, one of the best was the way the author wrote about jobs. From a fruit factory to a hotel laundry, from an IT department to a bookstore, Once was filled with genuine, vivid observations of the world of work, capturing both the loathing and the grudging affection for the things we do to pay the rent.

True Gloom

The stories in Cathy Stonehouse’s debut collection depict life as a series of sad, violent, and sometimes insane acts. Fittingly, they are populated by sad, violent, and sometimes insane characters. This is not uplifting, syrupy beach reading. Something About the Animal is a dark, often unsettling book that remains true to its own gloomy fictional universe.

Out of Nowhere

“I learned early on that things don’t come out of nowhere,” says the narrator in “Baby Teeth,” one of eleven stories in Teri Vlassopoulos’s Bats or Swallows. “There is always a buildup.”

Forever Young

Contrary to the codes of cliché, there’s more to men at midlife than Ferraris and pharmaceuticals. In his fifth book, the excellent short story collection The…