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I am obsessed with books about people who, for unclear reasons, ruin their own lives. In Freudian terms, it’s Thanatos, the death drive. The classic example is that fear you feel on a rooftop or near the edge of a cliff, a fear not so much that you’ll fall but that you’ll throw yourself over, into the void. My own version of this fear: When I pull out my phone to take a photo of the vista from a bridge or a precipice, I’m afraid I’ll drop the phone and automatically go after it.

But this isn’t the death drive, not directly; it’s irrational fear of some latent suicidal tendency that may not exist. The characters I’m thinking of don’t throw themselves off literal cliffs. It’s slower, and stranger, like sleepwalking into the sea.

More… “The Self-Destruct Button”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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Jimmy Yee cannot kill himself.

It’s certainly not for a lack of effort. Hanging doesn’t work. Slitting his wrists is useless. Shooting himself in the head, overdosing on pills . . . nothing he tries gives him the exit into oblivion he so clearly craves. Each time he succumbs, he witnesses a glowing ring of light, then awakens once again in his motel room. At least it seems like his motel room. What is going on? Maybe if he throws himself in front of a truck . . .

That’s the opening sequence to Demon, Jason Shiga’s bloody brilliant (or brilliantly bloody) action comic, a no-holds-barred assault on good taste and timidity that proves to be as hilarious and captivating as it is incredibly violent and profane. Originally serialized both online and via print pamphlets by the author, Demon is now being “officially” published as a four-volume series of books by First Second. The first volume was released late last year, the second just last month — volumes three and four will be coming out by the end of 2017. More… Demon am I”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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Chuck Barris died Tuesday night at the age of 87. He was a “character,” as my father liked to say of people who kept you interested despite being irritated by them. I interviewed him in 2008. He had graduated from Drexel University (then Drexel Institute of Technology) in 1953, and, following graduation, talked himself into a position as a page at NBC, then parlayed this into a higher-level job at ABC. He eventually opened their Hollywood office where he began to build his game show empire. He was the mastermind behind such shows as The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, The Parent Game, and, most famously, The Gong Show. When I interviewed Barris 9 years ago, I found him to be an unintegrated mix of the naïve, the boastful, and the cunning. When I asked him about his book, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, in which he claimed to have worked undercover as a CIA assassin (the book became a movie directed by George Clooney), he was predictably evasive. Part of the hype for that book was that Barris never revealed whether it was fiction or fact. Still, I sensed he was getting tired of the goof. He wanted to unmask — showmen always do. He had an instinct for what the public wanted and a relentless drive for celebrity and success. But he was also a simple Philly boy with a chip on his shoulder and a desire for acceptance in more respectable circles. He’d been labeled the King of Shlock for his game shows, but he wanted to be seen as a serious author. When we talked, he was working on a book about his daughter, who died of a drug overdose in 1998. • More… “I Remember Chuck”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.
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In August 2014, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery was in Ferguson, Missouri covering the protests over the police shootings of Michael Brown. On August 13, his third day on assignment, Lowery was arrested at a McDonalds: a moment captured on a video that quickly went viral. The Missouri protests spread across the country, morphing into Black Lives Matter movement, and Lowery continued to follow the story. His experience and reporting are documented in his first book: “They Can’t Kill Us All.” While on this book tour, Lowery dropped by The Smart Set offices for an interview conducted by Byshera Williams and Richard Abowitz. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… “Law & The Reporter”

Get in touch with The Smart Set at editor@thesmartset.com.
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I could die. Me. Personally. Could. Die. Well, I sort of always knew this, but remotely, so remotely, in the manner that we acknowledge, and with the same measure of anxiety, that someday the sun will flame out. But now — revelation! — I suddenly realized I actually could die — like at any moment.

This knowledge is what has propelled me into engaging simultaneously in two genres that I fundamentally loathe: the memoir and the medical essay. Along with my traditional reporter’s disdain for employing the anorexic pronoun, I believe that unless a memoir is written by an extraordinary individual — Augustine, Springsteen — I see no point in inflicting a memoir on readers. And I surely do not number myself among the extraordinary. Indeed, one of the things that drove me out of academia was when my English Department introduced a course on writing memoirs; the notion of 18-year-olds doing so is worse than cringe-worthy. Read the story of someone who has lived an exceptional life? Sure. Read stories of the pimpled masses who have not lived any lives whatsoever? Better to read the conditions you must accept before installing your latest app. More… “I Could Die”

Matt Nesvisky lives, for the time being, in Philadelphia.
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The apocalypse is all the rage these days. Of course, it’s a topic that never completely goes out of fashion. There’s always some person raving on a street corner about how all is lost and a few folks huddled around him or her, eager to listen. But these days, what with climate change, bees dying, ebola, and, of course, the recent election, it’s a topic on a lot of folks’ minds (at least judging from my social media feeds).

It’s a topic that’s on the mind of cartoonist Julia Gfrörer (pronounced “gruff-fair”) as well, or at least it’s the central setting of her latest graphic novel, Laid Waste. Gfrörer isn’t interested in depicting wanton death and destruction a la Michael Bay, however, as much as she is in depicting her characters’ attempts to find some sense of hope or solace in a world that is swiftly falling down around them. More… “Wonderful Waste”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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It was mid-summer and I was putting the finishing touches on a long essay. But then, predictably, things slowed down. Each of the finishing touches cried out for their own finishing touches, and the endpoint skipped away from me, snickering. My editor waited on the West Coast in polite silence. The essay’s subject was the British poet Geoffrey Hill, and he was not helping. The great man decided to set up camp somewhere over my left shoulder. Every time I gazed away from the keyboard or wrote a shoddy sentence his face floated into view, wearing an immense and accusatory scowl.

More… “Hero-Death”

James Chapin is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Florida. He is the author of a forthcoming novel set in 1800s Florida.
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Even her husband’s bed partners — and there were always plenty of those around — found mostly good things to say about Mrs. Oscar Wilde, or “poor, dear Constance” as she was known in polite society after the Bosie scandal broke their marriage wide open. “So sweet, so pretty and good, how came she by her outrageously intellectual husband?” wondered Richard Le Gallienne. “It was impossible not to predict suffering for a woman so domestic and simple mated with a mind so searching and so perverse, and a character so self-indulgent.”

That is unfair. Differences in temperament and intellectual chops are more expeditiously resolved by divorce than by tragedy. Constance Lloyd was a woman of intelligence and discernment, but as Oscar’s appetite for fame and louche young men kept on growing, so did the distance between them. “She could not understand me and I was bored to death with the married life,” Wilde confided to his ever faithful acolyte, sometime lover, and eternal sidekick, Robbie Ross. “But she had some sweet points in her character and was wonderfully loyal to me.” More… “(W)here Lies Constance Wilde?”

Robert Latona is a journalist based in Madrid, Spain.
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According to the online website The Death Clock, a man born on my birthdate can be expected to die 20 years from now in 2036. This assumes, however, that the entire human race does not become extinct before the estimated date of my demise.

More… “Countdown to Extinction”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.
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Existential crises are by no means exclusive to students in the liberal arts (think the bearded Beat emanating a cloud of hand rolled tobacco smoke, nauseated by these two options: to drop out and hitchhike cross country or attend his Intro to Western Phil class). The burdens of years of scholarly toil, the substantial time in esoteric animal labs, the hypercompetitive pursuit of graduate study lead many students in the sciences to also question: What’s the point of it all? The rigors of the pursuit of knowledge as a means to a career in medicine weigh down too many bright young minds such that by the time the goal is met, the soul is bruised and weary. More… “Death Meets the Doctor”

Nikhil Barot, MD is Assistant Professor of Medicine at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.
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