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Joshua Wolf Shenk

Joshua Wolf Shenk is an essayist and editor-in-chief of the Believer magazine. His essays have appeared in the Atlantic, Harper’s, the New Yorker, Slate, and River Teeth Journal, among many others. His mainstage Moth story “You Can Come Back” appears in the book Occasional Magic: True Stories about Defying the Impossible. He is the author of Lincoln’s Melancholy (Mariner, 2006), a New York Times notable book, and Powers of Two (Houghton Mifflin, 2014), a national bestseller. “The Curse of Cool” is adapted from Slouching Towards Los Angeles: Living and Writing by Joan Didion’s Light, edited by Steffie Nelson (Rare Bird Books, 2020).


Illustration by Kelsey Dake

The Curse of Cool

March 2, 2020 | Essays

In the fall of 2005, at the shuttle terminal of New York’s LaGuardia airport, I entered the security line and noticed, in front of me, a slight and slightly stooped older woman. After a couple of blinks, I recognized Joan Didion.

Woe and Wonder

Fall 2018 | Essays

On a Saturday morning in early June, just before the heat spikes, I set out with my eight-year-old son from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. We start the way I drive to work—north on Spencer Street past rows of midcentury ranch houses; left around the playgrounds of William E. Orr Middle School; then right on East Katie where, just past Algonquin, I see two burned-out truck trailers at the edge of the Boulevard Mall parking lot. One has holes in its sides like white paper someone held a lighter to, blew out the flame, and burned again and again. Still, standing on its wheels and struts, it seems positively stalwart compared to its companion, collapsed on its belly—a gesture of abjection, it feels, but also prayerful? Inside the trailer shells I glimpse blankets and bottles and a plywood shed. I don’t dwell, though. I’m on my way to get waffles for my boy.