Editor's Note — June 13, 2019, 1:00 pm

Inside the July Issue

At the border with William T. Vollmann; new fiction by David Szalay and Nell Zink; and more

Could there be a better pairing of writer and subject than William T. Vollmann on the southern border in the age of President Donald J. Trump? Exactly. So, Harper’s Magazine gave the master chronicler of lives on the margins the entire July issue for “Keep Going North,” reported earlier this year from the area in and around Tucson, Arizona. Never one for refraining, as his voluminous, richly imagined novels and daring battlefield journalism attest, Vollmann has won awards and passionate readers the world over with writing that is assured, surprising, warm, illuminating, and, most of all, generous. Here, in 28,000 words and 41 black and white photographs, Vollmann gives voice and face to detained migrants, asylum seekers, shelter operators, soup-kitchen hands, attorneys, and law-enforcement officials. These are the people the United States would rather not know—a diverse population that still believes in the promise of America even as America has forgotten its own promise to welcome the stranger.

That fallen America shows up in the rest of the July issue as well. In Easy Chair, Kevin Baker writes about the college-admissions scandal, the Index tallies up the numbers on drunk shopping and finds that the swill-and-click is good for the economy. Readings opens with a reflection on Michael Jackson by Margo Jefferson, and the characters in Nell Zink’s fiction seek fame and fortune in rock music. Norman Mailer serves as a guru in one of the books reviewed in the New Books column, which reminds me—the last time Harper’s devoted an issue to a single feature was March 1971, when we published Mailer’s “The Prisoner of Sex.” That cri de coeur of a white male writer arrogantly confronting an earlier wave of feminism went on to have a long life, spurring a book, a documentary, and most recently, a play. May the yearning souls Vollmann imbues with so much dignity here enjoy similar longevity.

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More from Ellen Rosenbush:

Editor's Note September 12, 2019, 12:33 pm

Inside the October Issue

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Inside the August Issue

Ted Conover among the homesteaders of Colorado’s San Luis Valley; Christopher Ketcham on the Gilets Jaunes; Marc de Miramon on former Rwandan President Paul Kagame; Jacob Mikanowski on Hungary’s far right

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Secrets and Lies·

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In 1973, when Barry Singer was a fifteen-year-old student at New York’s Yeshiva University High School for Boys, the vice principal, Rabbi George Finkelstein, stopped him in a stairwell. Claiming he wanted to check his tzitzit—the strings attached to Singer’s prayer shawl—Finkelstein, Singer says, pushed the boy over the third-floor banister, in full view of his classmates, and reached down his pants. “If he’s not wearing tzitzit,” Finkelstein told the surrounding children, “he’s going over the stairs!”

“He played it as a joke, but I was completely at his mercy,” Singer recalled. For the rest of his time at Yeshiva, Singer would often wear his tzitzit on the outside of his shirt—though this was regarded as rebellious—for fear that Finkelstein might find an excuse to assault him again.

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Out of sight on Leros, the island of the damned

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Reflections on harm in language and the trouble with Whitman

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About fifteen years ago, my roommate and I developed a classification system for TV and movies. Each title was slotted into one of four categories: Good-Good; Bad-Good; Good-Bad; Bad-Bad. The first qualifier was qualitative, while the second represented a high-low binary, the title’s aspiration toward capital-A Art or lack thereof.

Some taxonomies were inarguable. The O.C., a Fox series about California rich kids and their beautiful swimming pools, was delightfully Good-Bad. Paul Haggis’s heavy-handed morality play, Crash, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, was gallingly Bad-Good. The films of Francois Truffaut, Good-Good; the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, Bad-Bad.

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For time ylost, this know ye,
By no way may recovered be.
—Chaucer

I spent thirty-eight years in prison and have been a free man for just under two. After killing a man named Thomas Allen Fellowes in a drunken, drugged-up fistfight in 1980, when I was nineteen years old, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Former California governor Jerry Brown commuted my sentence and I was released in 2017, five days before Christmas. The law in California, like in most states, grants the governor the right to alter sentences. After many years of advocating for the reformation of the prison system into one that encourages rehabilitation, I had my life restored to me.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

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A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

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