things that are not really related to my new book except in my head

When I first met Sarah, she was working at an art gallery in Chicago that represented the artist Zhang Dali. I knew nothing about contemporary art, but I figured I should learn something so this girl might like me. Zhang Dali was one of the first contemporary artists whose work resonated with me: The longer I looked at it, the smarter it became. In the photo above, Zhang Dali has cut a silhouette out of an old house slated for demolition by the Chinese government, then knocked out parts of the wall.

Zhang Dali has spoken about how strange it is for natives to travel through Beijing these days: The construction boom in the city has resulted in such widespread destruction/construction that people find they can no longer navigate by landmarks, because the landmarks change constantly. Of course, this change isn’t simply bad: Chinese people are living longer, healthier, more comfortable lives. It also isn’t simply good. All of us ignore the tension and ambiguity inherent to development (and the rest of human life!) most of the time, because it’s so hard to hold competing ideas in one’s head without going insane. But my favorite contemporary art helps us conjure a big, complex world in which good news for some is usually bad news for others.

youtube

My video “On Religion.” I’ve wanted to make this video for a long time, but I’ve been scared that it would prove divisive in nerdfighteria and that the conversation would devolve into unhelpful and unproductive shouting.

That has happened a little, I guess, but overall I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Thanks, as always, for listening to me, and for telling me when I’m full of it, and for being part of the most respectful diverse community on the Internet.

I was kind of hoping that my fascination with cartography would end when I finished writing Paper Towns, but instead it has become worse. Part of what interests me about maps is how many choices are involved in portraying the world: You have to decide which direction (if any) will be up, how you’ll distort the world to render it in two dimensions, and you have to decide where the middle is. (Most of our maps have Alaska on one side and Russia on the other, but why?) In some ways, mapmaking is quite a bit like writing stories, I guess.

Here’s a map that places Mecca at the center of the world. (Mecca is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the site of many important events in early Islamic history; Muslims turn toward Mecca when they pray, and this map was created to show you which way to turn.)

You could make a similar map radiating out from Jerusalem, or New York City, or your hometown, or whatever feels like the center of the world to you. And that map would become for you the only truly accurate one. This makes me ask myself which place is at the center of my world–what’s the starting point from which the planet spins out in all directions?

(I can’t answer this question for myself, at least not at the moment; I just think it’s interesting.)