You can smell the photographs of Larry Sultan. My wife noticed this before I did. She is a Western person (she grew up in Las Vegas). That’s to say, she’s a desert person, as am I (Los Angeles). So it makes sense that she could smell Sultan’s pictures. Most of the photographs of Larry Sultan (currently on display at LACMA’s retrospective Larry Sultan: Here and Home) are thick with the San Fernando Valley in North Los Angeles, where Sultan grew up.

Larry Sultan: Here and Home” at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Through March 22.

The San Fernando Valley, otherwise known to Angelinos simply as “The Valley,” is Ground Zero for West Coast suburbia. There are tract homes, model housing developments, vast stretches of concrete highway stretching out into the horizon. But if you look… More…

Between autumns of 1942 and 1943, the English critic Cyril Connolly took a break from writing articles and set out to write a masterpiece. This, he wrote on the first page of his book, is the true function of a writer. Nothing else is of consequence. “How few writers will admit it,” he wrote “or having drawn the conclusion, will be prepared to lay aside the piece of iridescent mediocrity on which they have embarked! …. Every excursion into journalism, broadcasting, propaganda and writing for the films, however grandiose, will be doomed to disappointment.”

“Writers always hope that their next book is going to be their best,” wrote Connolly, “and will not acknowledge that they are prevented by their present way of life from ever creating anything different.”

It was agreed that Connolly’s previous books — a satirical novel… More…

You might have heard the story about the three Swiss. They were sitting around at an Inn together. They were: Arnold Böcklin (the painter), his son Carlo, and the writer Gottfried Keller. Nobody said anything for a long time. Then, Carlo said, “It’s hot.” More time passed. Finally, the elder Böcklin replied, “and there’s no wind.” Silence. Then, Gottfried Keller got up and left. As he was leaving, he said, “I won’t drink with these chatterboxes.”

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Whiting Award in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan’s selected essays… More…

“Whatever person you decide to photograph,” Antonino Paraggi says in Italo Calvino’s 1955 short story, Adventures of a Photographer, “you must go on photographing it always, exclusively, at every hour of the day and night.” He adds, “Photography has a meaning only if it exhausts all possible images.” Antonino becomes an amateur photographer obsessed with documenting almost every moment of his life. When he begins to date the lovely Bice, this obsession becomes even more acute as he turns his lens upon her every move from surveillance shots along street corners to private moments waking up in bed.

James Polchin teaches writing at NYU and is the founder and editor of the site Writing in Public.

Bored and agitated one summer day some years ago, I jumped in my car and drove 90 miles through a mostly green Pennsylvania to see some cows. But not just any cows. In the late sixties, I lived at the Milton Hershey School, an all-boys boarding school for orphans and semi-orphans founded by the inventor of modern chocolate manufacturing. My father died when I was 11, and that was my dubious ticket into Milton Hershey. Daily barn chores were part of our high school responsibilities, and it was to the barn I had worked in for four years that I made my impromptu dash. To do what when I arrived there I could not say.

Albert DiBartolomeo is the author of two novels, several short stories, numerous commentaries for the Philadelphia Inquirer and other publications, and has written for Readers Digest,… More…

The last earthly home of the mystic-naturalist John Muir was a 14-bedroom Victorian mansion on the fringes of Martinez, California. Before that Muir’s home had been the wilds of America, days spent roaming the peaks and valleys of the West. But in 1878, when Muir turned 40, his friends urged him to leave the mountain life and rejoin civilization. “John Muir! The great prophet of the American wilderness!” they would say at dinner parties and in print, and then remind Muir in private that his way of living was impossible.

By all accounts, John Muir became a good husband and a good father after he came down from the mountain. He wrote books about his experiences in the wild, and tended the enormous fruit ranch that belonged to his father-in-law. Every so often, Muir’s wife would find him gazing into the air. She would send him off for a mountain… More…

As David Brent put it in the original version of The Office, life is a series of peaks and troughs, but I think most of us, really, expect the Christmas season to grade out on the higher side of things, a spirit bumper even if the year that has just passed has not been a banner one. We tend to think that way if and until something occurs that we couldn’t foresee, that puts a sort of permanent crack in us that we’re forever trying to solder over, especially at the holidays.

Colin Fleming’s fiction appears in Harper’s, Commentary, Virginia Quarterly Review, AGNI, and Boulevard, with other work running in The Atlantic, Salon, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and JazzTimes. He is a regular guest on NPR’s Weekend Edition and Downtown with Rich Kimball, in addition to various radio programs… More…

Amina sits idle in the shade of her makeshift restaurant. A pot of boiling kidney beans near her toes and a cardboard case of fifteen brown eggs remind her of the work to be done, the work she can’t do yet. She counts the eggs again, tapping her henna-orange fingernail on the shit-and-feather encrusted shells, one by one. She arrived in the upper-class Hara Mus neighborhood of Djibouti City in the gray dawn haze before the construction workers appeared, before the first call to prayer, before the sun slinked through low clouds over the Gulf of Tadjourah.

Rachel Pieh Jones is a writer raised in the Christian west who now lives in the Muslim east. Her work has been published in the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times, and the Huffington Post among others. Find out more at her website here.

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In the early days of the 20th century, Picasso met some rich and careless Americans. “These folks,” Dave Hickey wrote in his book The Invisible Dragon: Essays on Beauty, “are no longer building gazebos and placing symboliste Madonnas in fern-choked grottos. They are running with the bulls — something Pablo can understand. They are measuring their power and security by their ability to tolerate high-velocity temporal change, high levels of symbolic distortion, and maximum psychic discontinuity.”

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Whiting Award in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan’s selected… More…

“A day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” — George Washington, the first President of the United States, delivering the National Thanksgiving Proclamation, on October 3rd, 1789

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.