The March for a People’s Vote

The March for a People’s Vote

On Saturday afternoon, London saw its largest march since the anti-Iraq war demonstration of 2003. An estimated 700,000 people marched through central London in bright sunshine and high dudgeon to Parliament Square. There, before the Houses of Parliament, their call for a “People’s Vote” on Brexit was endorsed by second-rank politicians from all parties apart from the Green Party which, having only one member of Parliament, sent a full delegation. Then everyone went home in time for tea.

This is Britain, after all. No one got hurt, and everyone was friendly. The police were smiling as they strolled among the families, clocking up overtime with each step. Outrage expressed itself not by pussy hats, but by homemade signs expressing the fatal British taste for puns: “Brexit Wrexit,” “I only have Ayes for EU” and, of course, “I love EU and EU loves me.” The protesters were so respectable that the person who made a sign equating Brexit with the turd emoji placed the sign in a trash…

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Walking with Witches

Walking with Witches

It is just before seven o’clock on a warm September evening, and I am waiting in front of a black house at the corner of Essex Street and Hawthorne Boulevard in Salem, Massachusetts. It is situated between a pub and a store with Harry Potter paraphernalia in its front windows. The black house is just one of many witchcraft shops in Salem, but this one, called Crow Haven Corner, has the distinction of being the oldest. I’m here to go on one of the “witch walks” they offer several times a day for $16 a head.

It’s a Monday so my tour group is a small one. Very small, in fact; there are only two other people, a couple from Utah whose daughter attends Harvard. The tiny turnout does not discourage our guide, Tom, in the least. If anything, the intimate group better allows his particular talents to shine.

Tom is a young, wiry-framed man with shoulder-length brown hair. He greets us with a sprightly voice that slips into a singsongy cadence …

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China on the Moon

China on the Moon

The new novel from Kim Stanley Robinson—best known for his 1990s science fiction trilogy Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars—starts low-key. An American courier called Fred Fredericks is on his way to the moon to deliver a new model “quantum” phone. On the flight he befriends the noted Chinese poet and travel writer Ta Shu. But when Fred makes lunar touchdown and meets Governor Chang Yazu, head of the Chinese Lunar Special Administrative Region, something goes wrong.
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A Few Foreign Films

A Few Foreign Films

Every year in early autumn, movie lovers converge on the Upper West Side for the New York Film Festival, hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Here you’ll find the film fan who has been champing at the bit to see the most-anticipated new releases of the fall; the older patron of the arts curious to discover something new in the festival’s retrospective section; the Tisch student prepared to have her mind blown by some deliriously inventive movie imported from halfway around the world; the Manhattan socialite who only bought a ticket on a lark; the writer who isn’t as impressed by his favorite director’s latest effort—one suspects he’s never impressed; the grizzled festival veteran who remembers when the lines weren’t as long and the security wasn’t as tight; and me, the bright-eyed cinephile who finally found the time and funds to come from out of town to experience the East Coast’s premier film festival for the first time.

New York i…

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No Nobel Prize for Literature? Thank Goodness.

No Nobel Prize for Literature? Thank Goodness.

The Times Literary Supplement has a Jean-Paul Sartre Prize for Prize Refusal, named after the French writer who declined the Nobel Prize in literature in 1964. Sartre didn’t want institutional authority for his opinions and stances: “A writer who takes political, social, or literary positions must act only with the means that are his,” he announced. “These means are the written word.” Sartre had informed the Swedish Academy, the body that chooses the winner of the literary Nobel, that he wouldn’t accept the prize, but it went ahead anyway. Karl Ragnar Gierow, the academy’s secretary, replied: “The academy’s award is not guided by the possible winner’s wishes but only by the decision of the academy’s 18 members.”

Sartre was wrong about most things, but in this he was prescient. The Nobel Prize in literature gilds no one’s laurels. It is a club no one should want to belong to. Fifty-four years later, the Swedish Academy came to the same …

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The Kingdom and the Power

The Kingdom and the Power

While the details of Jamal Khashoggi’s death have not fully emerged, we know the essentials. He died at the hands of Saudi agents in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and the decision to kidnap or kill him must have been taken at the top of the Saudi political structure. Whether crown prince Mohammed bin Salman asked “will no one rid me of this meddlesome journalist” or specified the methods to be used, he is responsible for Khashoggi’s death.

The Saudi decision to name several senior intelligence officials as sacrificial lambs will fool no one, and the official description—that Khashoggi died in a brawl with the 15 thugs surrounding him—beggars belief. On Friday night I (and no doubt thousands of others) received no less than five emails in English from the Saudi embassy explaining the new official line on Khashoggi, which is that “the discussions that took place between him and the persons with whom he met him during his visit to the Kingdo…

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RIP Ted Bol, Inventor ‘Little Free Libraries’

RIP Ted Bol, Inventor ‘Little Free Libraries’

In 2009, Tod Bol put a small wooden box in front of his Hudson, Wisconsin, home and unwittingly started a movement. Bol, who died Thursday at age 62, filled the box—shaped like a one-room schoolhouse in honor of his late teacher mother, who had loved reading—with books. He encouraged his neighbors to borrow a book or leave a book. And so the Little Free Library movement was born.

Over the ensuing decade, word of Little Free Libraries spread on the Internet. They quickly spread across the globe; they’re reportedly to be found in more than 80 countries now. 75,000 are registered on the Little Free Library website. Bol operated a Little Free Library non-profit, which tracks them and provides support. “It’s weird to be an international phenomenon,” he told the Associated Press in 2012.

You encounter Little Free Libraries in the predictable precincts, of course: The heavily educated quarters of upper northwest Washington, D.C., are chock full of them. But they’re not at al…

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