My library has a display shelf, near the main circulation desk, of recently returned books. I love this shelf. They’re just random books, new and old — novels, cookbooks, photography books, biographies, how-to manuals, self-help. I often find something I want to read amongst them. It’s anti-curation — my options are reduced, but there’s no discernible algorithm behind the selection. They are not even recommended.

It reminds me of a game my brother and I used to play in the backseat of the family car. We’d flip through a catalog from a toy store or Sharper Image and choose the one thing we most wanted from each full-page spread. In airport bookstores, my husband and I like to go row by row and choose which bestseller we’d read if we had to read one. We don’t buy the books, of course; we’ve brought our own. As kids, we didn’t get the toys. But the act of choosing was a form of entertainment. Choice itself is pleasurable. More… “On Choice”

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.




When the McCain campaign labeled Barack Obama a socialist, it was one of the worst slurs they could think of. But here in France, socialists are banal. Hell, we’ve got more than a million communists — Marxists, Trotskyists, anarchists, even Bolsheviks.

French far leftists of all stripes have been in a flurry of activity in recent months, even though the next important elections are still three years off. One reason is that President Sarkozy serves as a perfect catalyst for radical rage. There’s also the meltdown of the financial system, seen by many here as the end of the free market system as we know it. And finally, the Socialist Party itself has been self-destructing, plagued by overinflated egos and endless infighting. The most recent embarrassment came during the election of a party secretary last November, with… More…