Editor's Note — July 11, 2013, 2:00 pm

Introducing the August 2013 Issue

How we sleep (or don’t), the decline of North American fisheries, and scent sense

Harper's Magazine (August 2013)

This month, we’ve published a Forum on something precious and, for many of us, elusive: a good night’s sleep. We asked some of our favorite writers to participate — Rebecca Curtis, A. Roger Ekirch, Heidi Julavits, Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Sarah Manguso, Hamilton Morris, Christine Smallwood, Rebecca Solnit, Deb Olin Unferth — and although some of them had to work through the fog of a sleep-deprived brain, the essays they have produced are funny, informative, and heartfelt. Our Forum, “Are You Sleeping?,” covers such topics as bed-wetting cures, cuddle clinics for Japanese bachelors, self-experimentation with gray-market insomnia treatments, how to keep from killing your noisy neighbors, and the superhuman feats of nursing mothers.

The Sea of Cortez, which separates the Baja California peninsula from the mainland of Mexico, was until quite recently so abundant in sea life that Jacques Cousteau dubbed it the “Aquarium of the World.” Once host to a thousand species of fish, porpoises, shrimp, and turtles, the sea is being emptied by a combination of small fishing boats called pangas and large industrial trawlers. Reporter Erik Vance spent several months in the Baja, talking to fishermen and trawler operators, as well as marine biologists and shrimp farmers. He found that as the fish population declines, hookah divers along the peninsula’s shores will be forced to deeper, more dangerous depths; fishermen will have to harvest less-desirable species such as jellyfish; and many will turn to other livelihoods, such as running drugs. What is happening to the Sea of Cortez, Vance says, is essentially an early-warning signal for the world’s oceans.

Beau Friedlander explores the biology of smell, covering its history, its attendant superstitions, and its modern-day exploitation by everyone from hotel chains to the U.S. military. In his account, the odor of death is revealed as a potential weapon, while the odor of newly fallen rain becomes the Holy Grail of perfume research. This miscellany is also packed with fascinating tidbits: house flies smell with their antennae; salmon can sniff out their ancestral spawning streams from thousands of miles away; Helen Keller could deduce a person’s occupation by the scent of his or her clothes.

Elsewhere, Lorrie Moore reviews Jane Campion’s mini-series Top of the Lake, and Michelle Orange discusses Richard Linklater’s conjugal trilogy, which just wrapped up with Before Midnight. Thomas Frank, who began his career with a book about American advertising in the Sixties, finally turns his attention to Mad Men and its discontents. And in this month’s fiction, “The Way Things Are Going,” Lynn Freed expertly fuses South African politics with the struggle of an individual family.

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Five years ago, Jean-Sebastien Hertsens Zune went looking for his parents. He already had one set, a Belgian church organist and his wife, who adopted him as a baby from Guatemala and later moved the family to France. But he wanted to find his birth mother and father. When Zune was a teenager, his Belgian parents gave him his adoption file, holding back only receipts showing how much the process had cost. Most people pay little attention to their birth certificates, but for adoptees, these documents, along with notes about their relinquishment, tell an often patchy origin story.

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Alex and Wendy love culture. It’s how they spend their free time. It’s what they talk about at dinner parties. When they go jogging or to the gym, they listen to podcasts on their phones. On Sunday nights they watch their favorite new shows. They go to the movies sometimes, but they were bummed out when ­MoviePass went south, so now they mostly stream things. They belong to book clubs that meet every couple of weeks. Alex and Wendy work hard at their jobs, but they always have a bit of time to check their feeds at work. What’s in their feeds? Their feeds tell them about culture. Their feeds are a form of comfort. Their feeds explain things to them that they already understand. Their feeds tell them that everyone else is watching, reading, listening to the same things. Their feeds tell them about the people who make their culture, people who aren’t so different from them, just maybe a bit more glistening. Alex and Wendy’s feeds assure them that they aren’t lonely. Their feeds give them permission to like what they already like. Their feeds let them know that their culture is winning.

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Once, in an exuberant state, feeling filled with the muse, I told another writer: When I write, I know everything. Everything about the characters? she asked. No, I said, everything about the world, the universe. Every. Fucking. Thing. I was being preposterous, of course, but I was also trying to explain the feeling I got, deep inside writing a first draft, that I was listening and receiving, listening some more and receiving, from a place that was far enough away from my daily life, from all of my reading, from everything.

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All his life he lived on hatred.

He was a solitary man who hoarded gloom. At night a thick smell filled his bachelor’s room on the edge of the kibbutz. His sunken, severe eyes saw shapes in the dark. The hater and his hatred fed on each other. So it has ever been. A solitary, huddled man, if he does not shed tears or play the violin, if he does not fasten his claws in other people, experiences over the years a constantly mounting pressure, until he faces a choice between lunacy and suicide. And those who live around him breathe a sigh of relief.

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