TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT Summer 2016

TOP TEN

Rivka Galchen

Rivka Galchen is a writer based in New York. She is the author of the novel Atmospheric Disturbances (Picador, 2008) and the short-story collection American Innovations: Stories (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014). Her most recent book is Little Labors (New Directions, 2016), a miscellany about babies and literature.

  1. SAKURA PIGMA MICRON PENS 005

    Any grocery list or thought is more interesting when written in this pen’s tiny caliber.

    *Still from Sakura Pigma Micron pen 2014 promotional video.* Still from Sakura Pigma Micron pen 2014 promotional video.
  2. JEEVES AND WOOSTER

    On average, I’d say there are about two laughs per sentence in these novels by P. G. Wodehouse. Often there’s slapstick at the edge of darkness. The Code of the Woosters (1938), for example, centers partly around a fascist group called the “Black Shorts”; its leader’s secret is that he brilliantly runs a women’s underwear line. There’s also an antique cow creamer that really matters. For the past few months, these books have been too close to all I have wanted to read.

    *Cover of P. G. Wodehouse’s _The Code of the Woosters_* (Penguin Books, 1987). First edition published in 1938 by Herbert Jenkins. Cover of P. G. Wodehouse’s The Code of the Woosters (Penguin Books, 1987). First edition published in 1938 by Herbert Jenkins.
  3. THE UNEXPECTED HANGING PARADOX

    The concept behind this paradox, which is decades old (and thus relatively young for a paradox), is that a prisoner is told that he will be hanged at noon on one of the next seven days, but that he will not know which day it is until he is told on the morning of the hanging. And so: It can’t be the seventh day, because on day six, knowing there is just one day left, the hanging will be expected—which, by the terms of the sentence, it can’t be. However, it then follows that the hanging can’t be on the sixth day either, because, knowing it can’t be the seventh day, by the fifth day the prisoner would know it must be the sixth day and thus . . . This logic extends back to all the days; so it would seem that the hanging can’t assuredly happen unexpectedly on any day at all—a reprieve via logic! Why so many examples in math and logic so often have mortal stakes, and generally mortal stakes for men, I don’t know. But paradoxes consistently leave me with a sense of freedom and play, and remind me somehow of when I used to be able to eat an entire package of Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies in one sitting. One of the ways to solve the paradox is to notice that this logical track means that the thinking prisoner can, in fact, be unexpectedly hanged on any of the seven days—it will always be a surprise, as any day will seem to defy logic.

  4. VEEP

    Maybe the only contemporary work as funny as Wodehouse. And the cast is so varied in height! Just seeing the Timothy Simons character standing next to the Julia Louis-Dreyfus character often gives me more pleasure than anything else in a given week.

    *_Veep_, 2012–*, still from a TV show on HBO. Season 2, episode 9, “Midterms.” From left: Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons), Mike McLintock (Matt Walsh), Dan Egan (Reid Scott), Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky), and Gary Walsh (Tony Hale). Photo: Lacey Terrell. Veep, 2012–, still from a TV show on HBO. Season 2, episode 9, “Midterms.” From left: Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons), Mike McLintock (Matt Walsh), Dan Egan (Reid Scott), Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky), and Gary Walsh (Tony Hale). Photo: Lacey Terrell.
  5. CHILDREN’S BLOCKS

    I sometimes try to put myself to sleep with better dreams by picturing my daughter playing with her small colored blocks. Some are plastic cubes; others are wooden rectangles with swatches of patterned fabric rubber-cemented onto one side; and then she also sometimes plays with old, interlockable rectangles painted in a palette that seems to come from some more tender and saturated counterfactual world. The gentle and deliberate and then impulsively destructive way in which she moves these small objects around feels like a language.

    *Rivka Galchen’s daughter’s collection of children’s blocks, 2016.* Rivka Galchen’s daughter’s collection of children’s blocks, 2016.
  6. PATTERNED SOCKS

    So cheering. And somehow nearly as intellectually wakeful to me as the tiling at the Alhambra or the prints that come out of Liberty London.

    *Burlington socks.* Burlington socks.
  7. PETER CHARLES HENDERSON AND THOMAS WARNER, THE AMERICAN COWSLIP, 1801

    I came across this botanical hand-colored engraving—of a violet cowslip seemingly lit from within, with unrealistic levels of detail—in the appendix of the artist and writer Lauren Redniss’s book Thunder & Lightning (2015). Redniss describes the work as one of two pieces, along with British naturalist Mark Catesby’s 1725 painting Head of the Flamingo and Gorgonian, to which she wanted to pay homage with the medium of her own sui generis weather book. She notes, “Artists working in the name of science veered from visual conventions of scale, of perspective, of color and light. The need to convey specific information—about the anatomy of an animal or the structure of a plant—produced in some cases a kind of proto-surrealism.”

    *Peter Charles Henderson and Thomas Warner, _The American Cowslip_, 1801*, hand-colored aquatint and engraving on paper, 20 7/8 × 17 1/8". Peter Charles Henderson and Thomas Warner, The American Cowslip, 1801, hand-colored aquatint and engraving on paper, 20 7/8 × 17 1/8".
  8. OAXACAN PAINTED ANIMAL FIGURINES

    In the office I use on Mondays when I teach, there’s a small wooden porcupine painted in the style characteristic of Oaxaca, Mexico. The porcupine base is bright pink with blue dots, and it has about sixty toothpick-like quills painted with bands of white, blue, and turquoise. Holding this little creature in my palm is like—well, maybe in another century, I would have put out a mail-order advertisement for it as a medicament in the margin of a magazine.

  9. PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK

    I love a landscape so quiet about its extremity.

    *Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona, March 24, 2016.* Photo: Matt Kieffer/Flickr. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona, March 24, 2016. Photo: Matt Kieffer/Flickr.
  10. PENROSE TILES

    I think I went on so long about the unexpected hanging paradox because it has a secret tie to my childhood. I learned about it from the fantastic mathematical games and stories of the late author Martin Gardner, who, I only recently discovered, spent the last years of his life in Norman, Oklahoma, my hometown (and the site of a weather center mentioned in the Redniss book). Anything from childhood seems to me illuminated from the inside, and I associate that supernatural lighting of my own smallness with learning about Penrose tiling. Penrose tiles make patterns that don’t repeat in the way we’re accustomed to patterns repeating; you can’t make a bolt of regularly repeating fabric from them. I remember that when I was young, I felt like they had something to do with God. Penrose tiles aren’t the divine, of course, but they are a kind of divine; their symmetries feel at once compelling and elusive. Somehow, like paradoxes, the tiles make me feel that if I stare at them and daydream long enough, I’ll make it over to the other side of the looking glass, at least briefly.

    *Penrose cartwheel tiling pattern.* Penrose cartwheel tiling pattern.