The South began for me in Allendale, in the rural Lowcountry of South Carolina, set among twiggy fields of tufted white, the blown-open cotton bolls brightening the spindly bushes. In a lifetime of travel, I had seen very few places to compare with Allendale in its oddity; and approaching the town was just as bizarre. The road, much of it, was a divided highway, wider than many sections of the great north-south Interstate, Route 95, which is more like a tunnel than a road for the way it sluices cars south at great speed.
I had returned to my small seaside hotel around 4 p.m. to file photos to New York when I heard a loud explosion. My driver and I rushed to the window to see what had happened. A small shack atop a sea wall at the fishing port had been struck by an Israeli bomb or missile and was burning. A young boy emerged from the smoke, running toward the adjacent beach.
I grabbed my cameras and was putting on body armor and a helmet when, about 30 seconds after the first blast, there was another. The boy I had seen running was now dead, lying motionless in the sand, along with three other boys who had been playing there.
In the 1930s, Walter Benjamin wrote an essay called “Unpacking My Library.” As the title suggests, it’s a meditation on books, but it’s not about books as works of literature or as pieces of writing. Instead it’s about books as material objects, physical things with intricate histories based on where they’ve been, histories which, so he argues, are intertwined with personal narratives, narratives of lives lived in search of volumes of volumes. In the essay Benjamin writes things like “This or any other procedure is merely a dam against the spring tide of memories which surges toward any collector as he contemplates his possessions” and “How many cities have revealed themselves to me in the marches I undertook in the pursuit of books!”
We are also making our work more easily available. When we started newyorker.com, we, like everyone else, faced the dilemma of what to post online. Give it all away or hold things back? That was the question. Our approach was . . . both. We posted some pieces from the print magazine but held most of them back; our subscribers could, with a little effort, unlock those blue padlocks and read it all.
It was the largest and fiercest warship in the world, named the Mars for the Roman god of war, but it went up in a ball of flames in a brutal naval battle in 1564, consigning 800 to 900 Swedish and German sailors and a fortune in gold and silver coins to the bottom of the Baltic Sea.
Now, a few years after the ship’s discovery, researchers have concluded that the one-of-a-kind ship is also the best preserved ship of its kind, representing the first generation of Europe’s big, three-masted warships.
Between the flood of information online and the wall-to-wall television coverage, what is left for print? The Wall Street Journal devoted special reports and remarkable video to the events in Ukraine and Gaza. And The New York Times responded like the digital news organization it is becoming. Vivid on-scene reporting was accompanied by early video, with step-back analysis of what it all meant.
For her mother’s 90th birthday, West took home boxes of loose family photographs and assembled a four-volume scrapbook of her mother’s life, starting with baby pictures in 1915. It was a way to preserve the best of all the random photos that pile up in drawers and closets.
It wasn’t until after her mother died that West discovered — stashed in her mother’s garage — a treasure trove of old family correspondence, some dating back to the 1800s.
Google wanted to solve a problem we can all understand. People take so, so many photographs and yet they actually do very little with them. A chosen few are posted to Instagram. Most sit in vast wastelands of thumbnails on phones or in iPhoto never to be seen after the moment of their creation.
"You come back from a trip with 300 photos and no one is trying to help you do anything with them," said Google social web engineer Joseph Smarr. "You think about how people deal with that, and the main way is to not share anything.
On the Monday when The Fault in Our Stars was the #1 movie in America, I spent the morning at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven learning about the intricate physics of intersecting radiation beams and marveling at an animated scan of the inside of my friend Ash’s body: a Rorschach image of irregular black-and-white shapes that each emerged and grew and shrank and vanished as we moved down from her shoulders through her healthy heart, spotted lungs, scarred gastro-esophageal junction, stabilized liver, and newly enlarged lymph node.
It was the lymph node’s fault that Ash and I couldn’t go see The Fault in Our Stars together that week as we’d planned. The node wasn’t responding to treatment, which meant that Ash was headed to the city for a second opinion at Weill Cornell Medical College plus some quality time with her friend Ritu in Brooklyn.
Ritu and I, along with Ash’s friends Annette and Sarah, had read The Fault In Our Stars this spring at Ash’s insistence. During a rough bout of chemo when she could barely eat or drink, Ash read it ravenously, immersing herself in the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a teenager who has incurable Stage IV cancer, a hot boyfriend, and a distinctively wise and nerdy voice combining perceptiveness and snark. Afterwards Ash bought extra copies to give away. “You have to read it!” she kept telling us.
We do not yet know all the details. We do not even know most of the details. What we do know is that earlier today, a passenger jet carrying 295 people crashed on the Russian/Ukrainian border. We know that all aboard were killed.
I know something else, too, something you might not: that one of the people who perished today was a young woman, thin, with shoulder-length hair that was brown and a little bit wavy. I know what she was wearing when she died: a t-shirt of bright white and a skirt of deep black. I know that when she died, she was holding something. Or someone. Her pale arms, stark in a sea of fuel-blackened wreckage, remain frozen in an awkward embrace.