Nathan Heller, who has written for The New Yorker since 2011, was
reared in San Francisco. Does that inform his perspective? Does he, as a
Bay Area native, regard the rest of us as squares? As the whole San
Francisco–Silicon Valley complex bids to take over our culture, its
residents often seem to be visitors from the near future, inclined to
see East Coast enthusiasms as fetchingly retro. As for the sorts of
existential crises that New Yorkers fret over: over there, they’ve got
an app for that.
But Heller’s Bayness doesn’t come with a sense of superiority. A genuine
openness—at times bemused, at times amused—is his great gift as a
reporter and a critic. His intelligence is sometimes a floodlight,
sometimes a spotlight. He can be playful or penetrating or humanely
empathetic. His sentences ripple and sparkle, with whole ecosystems
thriving beneath the surface. Social conscience and social comedy,
usually estranged, couple fruitfully in his work.
In a piece on the gig economy, he explores the rise of a new precariat
in a manner alert both to human hopes and to economic trends. His letter
from Oberlin remains the subtlest exploration of contemporary campus
politics we have. (He writes about college as someone who graduated
recently enough that he can remember its ardors and inanities.) A
classic true-crime tale unfolds in “Blood Ties,” not skirting the larger
problems of narrative epistemology; and his time with the director
Richard Linklater turns into a study in sensibility, technique, and
form. A journey into Sweden’s war against cash takes unexpected turns,
while a piece on Bay Area startup culture is both sympathetic and
sharp-eyed. Maybe you can’t go home again, but Heller can. Let’s hope he
keeps coming back.
—Henry Finder, editorial director
“The Gig Is Up”
The industry that drove America’s rise in the nineteenth century was often inhumane. The twentieth-century corrective brought its own unfairnesses. Gigging reflects the endlessly personalizable values of our own era, but its social effects, untried by time, remain uncertain. Read more.
“The Big Uneasy”
Reports of recent campus unrest flummoxed many people who had always thought of themselves as devout liberals. Wasn’t free self-expression the whole point of social progressivism? Wasn’t liberal academe a way for ideas, good and bad, to be subjected to enlightened reason? Read more.
Two brilliant college lovers were convicted of a brutal slaying. All these years later, why has the case become a cause?” Read more.
“Moment to Moment”
At a time when independent cinema is often thought to be the Hollywood farm leagues, Richard Linklater has claimed it as a bright alternative to studio production. Read more.
In recent years, San Francisco has become the capital of what someone described to me as “three-business-card life.” Entrepreneurialism is a high-failure business, the thinking goes, but if you keep a few pots on the burner sooner or later something will boil. Read more.
Most people think of card and electronic payments as conveniences, stand-ins for exchanging cold, hard cash. Yet a growing group of theorists is embracing the idea that physical currency should be the exception rather than the rule. Read more.