I first noticed the books about five years ago in a grocery checkout line in suburban Chicago. Their covers sport bonnet-clad heads on demure-looking young white women posed in calm domestic or pastoral scenes. Perhaps a horse-drawn buggy rolls by in the distance, or a barn is etched on the horizon. Maybe a young man in a wide-brimmed hat stands gazing at the woman in the foreground.
When my brother and I were young, our parents would build us igloo forts out of blue sheets in the living room before putting us to bed. They would turn off all the lights except for a string of white Christmas lights that looped through our plants, and turn on the jazz-fusion, African-rhythm synthpop of Afro-Parisian Wally Badarou, creating an icy new world for us. What I now recognize as a way to calm two small children before bedtime felt like magic to me then. Our living room was transformed into a timeless space that felt simultaneously prehistoric and futuristic.
The only time any teacher talked about birth control at my rural Idaho high school was in a home economics class. I took the class, called Parenting Skills and Child Development, mostly to plug a hole in my schedule that semester. Well into college, whenever I mentioned that I took a parenting class in high school, people would almost reflexively snicker: Isn’t parenting a set of skills everybody should just have? My sophomore-year roommate said, “I just think of classes like that as classes for idiots,” and went on to snark that we needed more classes telling people how to avoid becoming parents in the first place.
For a long time, Vietnamese food made me uncomfortable. It was brothy, weirdly fishy, and full of the gross animal parts that other people didn’t seem to want. It was too complicated.
I wanted the straightforward, prefabricated snacks that I saw on television: Bagel Bites, Pop-Tarts, chicken nuggets. When my grandmother babysat me, she would make tiny concessions, preparing rice bowls with chopped turkey cold cuts for me while everyone else got caramelized pork. I would make my own Bagel Bites by toasting a normal-size bagel and topping it with Chinese sausage and a dash of Sriracha. My favorite snack was a weird kind of fusion: a slice of nutrient-void Wonder Bread sprinkled with a few dashes of Maggi sauce, an ultraplain proto–banh mi that I came up with while rummaging through my grandmother’s pantry. In our food-centric family, I was the barbarian who demanded twisted simulacra of my grandmother’s masterpieces, perverted so far beyond the pungent, saucy originals that they looked like the national cuisine of a country that didn’t exist.
If you’re like many Americans of late, you’re steering clear of large chain coffee shops in favor of smaller, independent spots where the barista can tell you the names of both the farm your coffee beans came from and the person who roasted them. As opposed to mass-production chain and retail coffee, “specialty coffee” is devoted to giving consumers a high-quality coffee “experience.”
Specialty-coffee folk pay attention to coffee at all levels: bean varietals and soils, correct roasting, flavor profiles and aromas, acidity, espresso dosage, and flawless service and presentation. In other words, they’re coffee snobs.
While on her way to get cheeseburgers with a friend, Samantha Irby decided to start a blog, mostly to impress a dude she had just met on the Internet. Since she was at that very moment loosening her belt to accommodate said cheeseburgers, she decided to call her new blog Bitches Gotta Eat. Four years later, the blog has outlasted the relationship.
When I ask Sally Ross-Moore if she and her sister Nancy were “rebellious” teenagers, she lets out a low, knowing chuckle. “We were,” she says. For a minute it sounds like she might elaborate, but instead she trails off, lost in a hazy, private memory of the band that she and her sister channeled their delinquent energy into.
In an interview with another journalist about a decade ago, though, her sister had been more than happy to fill in the blanks. “We’d go upstairs in the state capitol building to the rotunda and spit on senators’ heads!” Nancy said, recounting the sisters’ favorite after-school activities. “And we used to get kicked out of movie theaters all the time.” Other extracurriculars included milling around their hometown of Sacramento, playing pranks on salespeople in overpriced boutiques (Sally, who’s now 60, would ask to try on child-size garments and then throw mock tantrums when the shopkeepers suggested a larger size), and—the preferred entertainment of most teenage hell-raisers in the early 1960s—going to rock shows. After one particular concert (a Beach Boys show in 1964, on a school night no less) Nancy had an experience that would change the girls’ lives forever. “I woke up—I’d only been asleep about 15 minutes—and I’d had this clear dream, vision, whatever you want to call it, of a group of girls onstage. In my mind it was just like the Beach Boys, but girls.”