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Popcorn: From Calcutta to Dallas to San Francisco

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 30, 2013 - Welcome to "Popcorn." Every week, Beacon staffers will share little kernels of what we've been reading -- books, articles, blogs, whatever -- that have gotten us thinking, wondering or reflecting.

Feel free to share what you've been reading in our comments section.

'Bay Watched: How San Francisco’s new entrepreneurial culture is changing the country'

This New Yorker profile describes the frenetic, eclectic life of entreprenuer and artist Johnny Hwin. He and other harbingers of the future from San Francisco represent a rapidly changing culture of innovation that will -- or already is -- affecting us all. More interesting to me than glimpses of the future, the piece addresses a question I wonder about in the present -- what motivates a generation that seems deeply interested in improving the world yet deeply averse to making institutional commitments to do it.

-- Margaret Wolf Freivogel, editor

'The Lowland'

We like to think of immigrants as building a new life in the United States. But what happens when they can't shake the old life? What happens when even a  better life is not necessarily a happier life? The new novel by Jhumpa Lahiri is an engrossing story of an Indian immigrant to Rhode Island who marries his brother's widow so that she can escape the stultifying home of his parents in Calcutta. But you don't have to be an immigrant to be moved by this story of how the past -- involving a tragedy, a terribly wrong decision -- scars the present and the future.

-- Susan Hegger, issues and politics editor

'Kennedy, the elusive president'

At the conclusion of a roundup of books about President Kennedy in the New York Times Book Review, executive editor Jill Abramson quotes a long, macabre and profoundly affecting passage from William Manchester's "Death of a President" about the disposition of the pink suit Jacqueline Kennedy wore on Nov. 22, 1963 -- a day "for a generation of Americans still the most traumatic public event of their lives, 9/11 notwithstanding," Abramson says.

Manchester reported the clothes worn by Mrs. Kennedy in Dallas when her husband was assassinated were stowed in the attic of a house in Bethesda, Md. Close friends of Mrs. Kennedy promised themselves she'd never see them.

"She hasn’t," Manchester wrote. "Yet they are still there, in one of two long brown paper cartons thrust between roof rafters. The first is marked 'September 12, 1953,' the date of her marriage; it contains her wedding gown. The block-printed label on the other is 'Worn by Jackie, November 22, 1963.' Inside, neatly arranged, are the pink wool suit, the black shift, the low-heeled shoes and, wrapped in a white towel, the stockings. Were the box to be opened by an intruder from some land so remote that the name, the date and photographs of the ensemble had not been published and republished until they had been graven upon his memory, he might conclude that these were merely stylish garments which had passed out of fashion and which, because they were associated with some pleasant occasion, had not been discarded."

-- Robert Duffy, associate editor

St. Louis doesn't brag

During the World Series, my duties include keeping an eye on stories that the Beacon would like to highlight for readers. A surprise as the playoffs progressed was the level of animosity toward St. Louis. One explanation that made sense to me was that the Cardinals have beaten teams that others loved. OK, but why the derision heaped on the city for being “the best fans in baseball”?

First, how unlike St. Louis to anoint ourselves as “the best.” That accolade had to come from baseball commentators. Second, having gone to other ballparks, I know Cardinals fans are knowledgeable and not abusive. The latter quality alone could make St. Louis attractive to players.

An article that hit home does not make the case that St. Louis fans are the best. It does say “It’s Just Different Here.” Check out Howard Megdal on mlb.com.

-- Donna Korando, features editor

'Die empty'

I felt a little self-conscious recently when on an international flight I pulled out my current reading material: a book with a flat black cover, and the title, in large white letters, "Die Empty."

I hope anyone who caught a glimpse and felt startled also read the subtitle, "Unleash Your Best Work Every Day." Author Todd Henry's premise is that each person has a unique contribution and a limited time to make it. So he implores readers to get to work and not let that time run out.

Toward the beginning of the book, Henry discusses why people often fall short of their capabilities. He then shares several principles to encourage constant growth and refocusing while producing good work. Finally, he talks about strategies to apply those principles and ways to monitor progress and stay on course.

It's easy to get lost in goals and mission statements and thinking about purpose. It's sometimes difficult to translate those goals into concrete action and progress. Henry sums it up:

"All the positive thinking in the world will not amount to anything without decisive action. The rest of us need you to act, because if you don't, you're robbing yourself, your peers, your family, your organization, and the world of a contribution that only you can make. The cost of inaction is vast. Don't go to your grave with your best work inside you. Choose to die empty."

-- Brent Jones, presentation editor

'Humans of New York'

Over the past year, Humans of New York -- the one-man photoblog that chronicles "New York City, one story at a time" through street photography -- has raised $318,500 for Hurricane Sandy relief,  $103,700 to send Brooklyn kids to camp and $32,100 to send a kid to horse camp -- the first $7,000 in 15 minutes. Brandon Stanton, the photographer behind the blog, has more than 1.6 million Facebook followers who are passionate and mostly positive about the stories Stanton tells daily on the photoblog. When he gives them a cause to get behind, they get.

On Tuesday of this week, HONY struck again. On a shoot for some media related to HONY's just released book making to No. 1 on the NYTimes Hardcover Bestseller list, Stanton learned the story of one of the camera men. The result? HONY's latest crowd-funding campaign: raising the money to help the camera man and his wife adopt a second child from Ethiopia. Oh, and the extra money (of which there is plenty), goes toward college funds for the two children.

In case you were distracted enough to forget that there is much good in the world. 

-- Nicole Hollway, general manager

Future of journalism

As the Beacon enters into a new era of journalistic collaboration with St. Louis Public Radio, I was impressed by two documents that reflect thinking that goes into how and why journalism is changing. John Henry, the owner of the Boston Red Sox, who recently purchased The Boston Globe, gave his vision of the journalistic future in this document.

And Bill Keller, former executive editor of the New York Times, published a fascinating, insightful, lengthy dialogue he had with Glenn Greenwald, who published what Keller called "probably the year’s biggest news story, Edward Snowden’s revelations of the vast surveillance apparatus constructed by the National Security Agency."

-- Dale Singer, education reporter

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