TIME society

Roald Dahl Fans Are Not Pleased With This Creepy New Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Cover

Penguin

Penguin says it's meant to highlight the 'light and the dark aspects' of the work

This week, Penguin Books released a new cover of the Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Exciting news for fan of this classic novel, right? Eh, not so much. Reactions across the web were largely negative, with fans deeming the cover inappropriately sexualized and reminiscent of JonBenét Ramsey. Others even thought it was a spoof.

But some people appreciated the cover’s creepiness because the book itself is, of course, pretty dark.

Penguin explains its design in a Facebook post:

Publishing for the first time as a Penguin Modern Classic, this design is in recognition of the book’s extraordinary cultural impact and is one of the few children’s books to be featured in the Penguin Modern Classics list.

This new image for CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY looks at the children at the centre of the story, and highlights the way Roald Dahl’s writing manages to embrace both the light and the dark aspects of life, ready for Charlie’s debut amongst the adult titles in the Penguin Modern Classics series.

Some people have speculated that the girl on the cover is meant to represent either Veruca Salt or Violet Beauregarde, though according to the BBC, that’s not true.

Either way, this art is a pretty puzzling choice, but at least the publisher didn’t put Johnny Depp on the cover.

 

TIME Companies

Google and Barnes & Noble Team Up Against Amazon

It’s on, Amazon.

In a clear challenge to Amazon’s same-day delivery service, Google and Barnes & Noble are teaming up to deliver books within hours of orders in select places.

Book buyers in Manhattan, West Los Angeles and San Francisco can now use Google Shopping Express, the search giant’s delivery service that started last year but has been slow to take off, to order books and begin reading them by the end of the day, the New York Times reports.

Michael Huseby, head of the troubled book seller that has shuttered dozens of stores in the past five years, told the Times that the partnership was “a test.”

“It’s our attempt to link the digital and physical,” he told the Times.

Amazon, the online book seller that became an e-commerce giant, expanded same-day delivery service for goods at its warehouses this week to 10 cities, charging Amazon Prime members $5.99 and everyone else $9.98. Google, meanwhile, has used couriers in select locations to deliver goods from partner stores, charging nothing for Google Shopping Express subscribers (membership is currently free for the first six months) and $4.99 per delivery for everyone else.

[New York Times]

TIME Books

Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist Is a “Manual on How to Be a Human”

Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay Jay Grabiec

The acclaimed author’s essay collection shows “what it’s like to move through the world as a woman”

Roxane Gay is the gift that keeps on giving. The author released her riveting first novel, An Untamed State, back in May, and she already has a new book out: an entertaining and thought-provoking essay collection called Bad Feminist. In it, she covers of range topics from pop culture to politics, from Fifty Shades of Grey and Sweet Valley High to Wendy Davis’ filibuster and the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant.

Bad Feminist, she explains, is about reconciling contradictions — how to ask tough questions about the world and feminism while still “admitting to our humanity and enjoying sometimes inappropriate things.” Gay talked to TIME about Beyoncé, how to define feminism and writing about trauma on the Internet.

TIME: You wrote these essays between 2010 and 2013, but some of them feel especially of the moment — I was reading your essay about privilege while the Internet was having a passionate debate about the topic. Can you see the future?

Roxane Gay: I try to pay attention to what’s going on in our culture, and a lot of the issues I write about are ongoing issues, so it’s always interesting to see those issues come back to the public’s attention over and over. Privilege is something we’re increasingly talking about culturally because people are starting to say, “How do we acknowledge our privilege and acknowledge the ways in which we’re not privileged? How do we keep from stepping on each others toes?” It’s one of the many reasons why we’re having this conversation again.

I thought the essay did a great job of discussing the importance of acknowledging privilege while also critiquing the ways “check your privilege” gets thrown around. What do you think people misunderstand about that phrase?

I think that when people hear that phrase, they start to feel defensive. They feel like they have to apologize for some things they have no control over. You can’t control the fact that you are born a white man or born into wealth. When people say “check your privilege,” they’re saying, “Acknowledge how these factors helped you move through life.” They’re not saying apologize for it. But I think oftentimes, because we’re human, we hear these things and feel we have to apologize, and I think that’s where a lot of it is coming from.

One definition of feminism that you mention in the book is “women who don’t want to be treated like sh-t.” Is there one perfect definition out there?

No, I don’t think there’s one definition of feminism. I think there are multiple definitions of feminism. But at its core, I think it’s that women deserve certain inalienable rights in the same ways that men do. We have to look at reproductive freedom and making sure that the female body is no longer legislated. We have to look at the wage gap and think about race and class and sexuality and ability because we inhabit multiple identities. I think one of the most important things we can do as feminists is acknowledge that even though we have womanhood in common we have to start to think about the ways in which we’re different, how those differences affect us and what kinds of needs we have based on our differences.

Is there value in knowing whether young women in Hollywood identify as feminists?

Yes and no. The value in that is it’s important for more women to claim feminism so people can understand that feminism really isn’t a bad thing or something we need to avoid or be afraid of. But you know, I think that it’s a choice. It’s not something you want to force everyone to believe in. I mean, I would love for everyone to be a feminist, but I have to respect people’s choices. If you don’t want to be a feminist and don’t want to claim feminism, that’s entirely your right. But I think the more visible women that stand up and say, “I’m a feminist,” the better off feminism is going to be, and the better off women overall are going to be.

What did you think of the recent “Women Against Feminism” reaction happening on social media?

I thought it was absurd and sad, but everyone is entitled to their opinion. I disagree entirely and think feminism is what made it possible for them to make those kind of provocative statements. And in many of the young women making statements, I saw women who were saying very feminist things. Mostly I just thought, “How sad that they’re this ignorant.” It’s really ignorance that’s at play here, more than anything else.

Where do you even start with trying to combat that ignorance?

They start by understanding that feminism is just an idea. It’s a philosophy. It’s about the equality of women in all realms. It’s not about man-hating. It’s not about being humorless. We have to let go of these misconceptions that have plagued feminism for 40, 50 years. It’s ridiculous that we’re still having this conversation. “But I love men!” Who cares! It’s not about men at all.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Beyoncé in the past year and how she gets policed for being a bad feminist or doing feminism “wrong.” Do you think she’s a particular target?

Yes, I do. I think that anytime a woman is visible, she becomes a target. I think that Beyoncé is in a particular bind because she’s a big public figure and a role model and also, especially with her most recent work, very sexual and owning her sexuality. Whenever a woman owns her sexuality, it starts to make people uncomfortable. So what we’re seeing is a lot of discomfort, and people are confused because we don’t use a lot of nuance when we talk about our cultural figures when we’re either for them or against them. People are having a difficult time holding multiple opinions about Beyoncé at the same time. I think we’re seeing a lot of that pushback. Whenever a woman does something, we have to comment on it.

Your essay, “What We Hunger For,” is a standout. I didn’t expect a piece that starts off talking about The Hunger Games to transition into talking about personal trauma so seamlessly.

The feedback to that essay is some of the strongest feedback I’ve received on all of the essays. It’s been really wonderful because people found something they can relate to, especially this idea that I come to at the end, that reading and writing is sometimes more than reading and writing — there’s salvation in there and solace. I’ve been really overwhelmed and gratified by the response to the essay. And I think it speaks to my style. Light and dark are two opposites of the same situation. I think that you can start in one place and end in another, and one of the things I love about writing essays is doing that. It’s not something I plan, I just write my way to the unexpected place. When I get there, I realize this is where I go all along.

Is the Internet usually your first draft?

Not always. I find that because I start on Tumblr with no mission, the writing is often more interesting and stronger because I’m not sitting there with a deadline. I’m just writing for myself, so that’s where I do my most open and honest writing. The Internet works well because it’s so responsive and so immediate. I have some thoughts and I put them out there. When I do it on my personal blog, there’s nothing at stake. It’s just my blog, and as far as I’m concerned, no one’s reading it. So that really helps reduce some of the anxiety. I don’t feel a lot of anxiety about my writing, but definitely messing around on Twitter or writing on my Tumblr is just where I’m starting to work through things and figure out what I’m thinking or feeling.

Do you have those moments where you’re confronted with the fact that people are reading your work?

Yeah, definitely. Whenever someone points out something or talks to me about something they liked or that I’ve done, there’s this uncomfortable moment of oh wow. My delusion is really profound. People are reading these things, but I actively work on the delusion.

I’d imagine you’re having more and more of those moments.

I have. It’s been awkward! But yes, absolutely, it’s becoming harder and harder to maintain the delusion. But I’m working hard!

What was the ultimate goal for this book?

When I started to look at this body of work I had created over the past several years, there was a common thread. How do we question the world we live in and question the popular culture that we consume while also admitting to our humanity and enjoying sometimes inappropriate things? And having inconsistent ideas? This is a manual on how to be a human.

In one of your essays, you write, “I’m raising my voice to show all the ways we have room to want more, to do better.” You have essays that explicitly talk about feminism, but you also have essays about college-town life and your competitive Scrabble league — those seem just as important to include when it comes to this mission of speaking up.

I think that if you can’t find anyone to follow, you have to find a way to lead. I wouldn’t call myself a leader, but I’ll stand up and say I’m a feminist. I’m a bad feminist, but I’ll stand up and own my feminism. In each of these essays, I’m very much trying to show how feminism influences my life for better or worse. It just shows what it’s like to move through the world as a woman. It’s not even about feminism per se, it’s about humanity and empathy.

TIME Books

Sherlock Holmes Still in Public Domain After Another Loss for Doyle Estate

Judge to Doyle estate: You're on thin ice

Attention, Sherlock Holmes fanfiction writers, you can still try and squeeze some money out of 221b Baker Street’s famous resident — the world of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective series remains in the public domain, despite repeated attempts from the late author’s estate to hold on to copyright claim.

7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner said the estate’s activities were basically “a form of extortion” in an Aug. 4 decision that sided with an editor seeking legal-fee reimbursement from the estate, Gawker Media blog i09 reports.

Last year, editor Leslie Klinger took the estate to court after it tried to block publication of a new anthology series unless it was paid a licensing fee. After a judge ruled that all stories published before 1923 were in the public domain, the estate made an appeal that was rejected by Posner, who noted that the estate was asking for 135 years of copyright protection and could be in violation of anti-trust laws.

“The Doyle estate’s business strategy is plain: charge a modest license fee for which there is no legal basis, in the hope that the ‘rational’ writer or publisher asked for the fee will pay it rather than incur a greater cost, in legal expenses, in challenging the legality of the demand,” Klinger wrote in his decision supporting Kinger’s request for reimbursement, which he called “a public service.”

TIME Humor

Sharknado 2: Five Things Deadlier Than a Sharknado—And How to Survive Them

How to Survive a Sharknado
How to Survive a Sharknado Courtesy Three Rivers Press

Tuning into 'Sharknado 2: The Second One' tonight? A new guide has some critical tips on staying safe from the wildest of creatures in your wildest of dreams (or tele-movies)

1. MEGA PYTHONS

Let it try to eat you. Lie on the ground perfectly still, with your feet toward the snake. Do not struggle as it begins swallowing you. Its backward-curving teeth will scrape you, but it probably won’t bite down. When you are in its mouth up to your chest, pull your knife out and stab it in the eyes. You may not kill it, but you will distract and blind it while you make your escape.

Mega Python

2. FIRENADOS

Treat burns. Wash the burn with water for three to five minutes. Do not break blisters. Cover the burn with a moist sterile bandage or cloth. Seek medical attention. Do not apply ice, ointments, or home remedies such as egg whites and butter. Who does that anyway? Egg whites? Everyone knows you’re just supposed to use the yolk.

Firenado

3. BASILISKS

DON’T: Shoot it or try to blow it up. Conventional weapons can’t penetrate the beast’s thick body armor. It survived a fiery inferno in- side an exploding building, indicating it is also impervious to high temperatures. It’s either the Eye of Medusa or nothing if you want to stop a basilisk.

Basilisk

4. BOARICANES

Take a tip from T-Pain—get low. If you can’t reach shelter, you’ll need to protect yourself from flying debris. Get low to the ground. Curl into a ball. If a flash flood washes you away, you’ll roll to safety like a human tumbleweed.

Boaricane

5. DINOSHARKS

The best defense is a good offense—specifically, a harpoon gun. If you’re on a boat, your options are limited. Dinosharks can swim as fast as any boat, and strike a hole through the hull as well. While the Puerto Vallarta dinoshark measured twenty feet, adults can grow up to fifty feet—meaning it could easily punch a hole in a Regal Islands International cruise ship. Fight back, or become the next victim. According to McGraw, the creature’s ex- terior is resistant to gunfire and grenade blasts. The weak spots are its mouth and eyes. Possibly its genitals, though we don’t rec- ommend taking the time to look for those. A harpoon through an eye stopped the Puerto Vallarta dinoshark. That’s a difficult shot to make, even for an experienced marksman at close range. But we have faith in you. We’ll just be waiting right . . . over . . . here . . .

Dinoshark[1]

Excerpted from How to Survive a Sharknado And Other Unnatural Disasters: Fight Back When Monsters and Mother Nature Attack, by Andrew Shaffer. He is the author of humorous nonfiction and fiction, including Literary Rogues, Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love, and, under the pen name Fanny Merkin, Fifty Shames of Earl Grey. His writing has been published in Mental Floss, Maxim, The Daily Beast, and more.

TIME Television

“The Book Was Better”: Why Readers of TV Adaptations Need to Let Go

Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall, transported from 1945 Scotland to 1743 Scotland in Outlander. Starz

When your favorite read becomes a series, it no longer belongs to you alone. And that's fine.

The battle between books and TV used to be fought by bibliophiles proclaiming that they didn’t even own televisions. Today, the terms of battle have changed, as prestige TV has gotten enough cultural status that there is probably some counter-snob bragging, at a cocktail party somewhere, “Why, I don’t even own a book!”

But the latest point of contention is between readers and watchers of the same story, when an acclaimed, popular work of fiction (e.g., A Song of Ice and Fire) becomes an acclaimed, popular TV drama (e.g., Game of Thrones). If you read a franchise before it was adapted for the tube, is your fandom more true than a newcomer viewer? Does the TV series owe you a faithfulness to the original story? And do you suddenly have to clam up about “spoilers” you read a decade ago?

Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones recently weighed in on that last issue with a directness that would do her character Arya Stark proud, sticking book purists with the pointy end: “I’m so sick of going on the Internet and seeing all the book readers being snobby, spoiling it for other people, then saying, ‘Well, it’s not a spoiler. The books have been out for years.’ Like, couldn’t you just stop being mad for a second and let other people enjoy the show?”

Speaking as a reader of the books, she’s right–up to a point. If anyone that desperately wants to know what’s coming up in the books, nothing’s stopping them from reading ahead, so I’m not taking a vow of silence. On the other hand, I don’t have to be a jerk about it: in my reviews of GoT–which at this point has started diverging from the books in key ways anyway–I pointedly avoid book spoilage, at least without warning anyone. There are plenty of big forums for book readers to discuss the series with other readers–the AV Club has gone as far as publishing separate “newbies” and “experts” reviews.

There’s a similar dynamic going on with The Walking Dead (which has diverged even father from the source graphic novels, or so I’m told). And pretty soon we’ll have a new book fandom entering the TV-space: Outlander, based on a massively popular fantasy-romance-history series by Diana Gabaldon–involving war, sex, time travel and 18th-century Scotland–debuts on Starz August 9. And as with Game of Thrones, its loyal readers will be watching closely. Very closely.

Writing for Vanity Fair online, Joanna Robinson angered some of these Outlanderphiles Tuesday when she posted a critique of the credits sequence that Starz has put online, arguing that the misty-highlands music and the “Ren-meets-Lilith-Fair” visuals suggested that Starz was positioning and marketing the series as a genre romance in a way that might turn off a larger audience, especially men. It was hardly an in-depth review, but it was a legitimate enough subject for a short post about the marketing of a TV series–from a writer who has been an astute critic of series like Game of Thrones. (I’ve seen six episodes of Outlander, which I’ll review later. I think it has crossover potential, and I didn’t exactly think I needed to turn in my Man Card for watching it. But, to Robinson’s concern, the series itself is a good bit less gauzy than those credits and Bear McCreary theme song suggest.)

A slew of commenters, though, took Robinson’s critique of Starz’s marketing of the TV series specifically as an attack on the books, and their genre at large–on them. (Starz, she suggested, was making Outlander look like “Fifty Shades of Plaid,” in a way that might appeal only to “your dear old mum.”) What especially struck me, though, was a repeated refrain in the angry replies from fans: “If you have read Outlander, which I don’t believe you did, you would never make those silly comments.”

Robinson pointed out on Twitter that she actually has read Outlander. But suppose she hadn’t. So what? What’s really going on here is a larger, recurrent argument here about fandom and ownership.

Outlander the TV series is an adaptation, which Starz–like HBO or AMC or any other adapter–is making for an audience that, ideally, will be far larger than the readership alone. Can you not have a legitimate opinion on them unless you have read the source books–and unless you love the source books and are invested in a series you haven’t yet seen? Are the old fans the true fans, the authentic fans, the authoritative fans? Can you truly appreciate and understand an adaption without reading the source–or is it actually a handicap?

HBO’s Game of Thrones. HELEN SLOAN

I’ve been on both sides of this, and my strict rule about reading the source material is: there is no rule. I’ve read the A Song of Ice and Fire books and I love them–not without reservation–but there are times I wish I could watch Game of Thrones without knowing what’s coming or being tempted to compare. Knowing the general story lets me focus on Thrones‘ themes and characters without getting bogged down in plot speculation. On the other hand, I can never un-read the books and know what it would be like to watch the series from that perspective.

So when I heard HBO was adapting The Leftovers, I decided not to read the book, even though I’m a fan of Tom Perrotta’s other novels. I’ve never read The Walking Dead graphic novels, not because I care about being spoiled but because I don’t have enough interest. Outlander—that’s a lot of books to read in a little time, and I’d just as soon go in without preconceptions. On the other hand, I eagerly read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, long before the BBC announced its upcoming adaption of the fantasy novel, and I can’t wait to see it.

In other words, I’ve been a reader and a non-reader. One experience is not better, purer or more authoritative than the other. Neither experience makes judgment of the visual version of the story more or less legitimate. They are qualitatively different experiences–but they are just that, different, and it’s impossible to have both experiences at once. That’s why I’m glad, for instance, that I can read Game of Thrones reviews both by critics who have read the source and ones who haven’t–I find things in both that I can’t expect to get from the other.

People who came to Game of Thrones years after I read the books are not fandom gentrifiers. Our perspectives aren’t inherently better or worse than the other. And the same goes for books vs. their adaptations. As a reader of ASOIAF, HBO owes me precisely nothing–except in the sense that it “owes” me as a subscriber to make any TV series a good TV series. It doesn’t owe me a reproduction of my favorite scenes and storylines. Our default adjective for adaptations is “faithful,” but there’s no breach of faith inherent in changing a story for the screen. There are things I miss in Game of Thrones, but in many ways the streamlining of the vast, digressive story has been an improvement–and in any case, it’s better suited for TV.

But beyond that, HBO could have turned ASOIAF into a laugh-track family sitcom–That’s My Lannister!–with a wacky space-alien neighbor living next door to the Red Keep, and it would not diminish my reading experience one bit. It would change the larger world’s perception of the story, yes. Any TV or film adaptation is likely to have a much broader cultural reach than the novels it was based on–and there’s another reason for readers to feel anxious about adaptations. But in the end, what other people think of a story you love doesn’t matter. What matters is the individual, and inalienable, bond the story makes with you.

I don’t know how true Outlander will ultimately be to the books, but one way or another Outlander‘s literary fans will soon have to deal with all of this just as ASOIAF‘s have. (If my friend and colleague Lev Grossman’s The Magicians ends up becoming a series at Syfy, so will its readers.) And I recognize that this tension is especially strong among readers of genre fiction, who have learned to expect their favorites to be dismissed as silly stories for Dorito-stained fanboys or doily-clutching old ladies. That may be, for instance, why you don’t hear the same kind of outcry or policing among Perrotta fans over HBO’s Leftovers–literary-fiction readers just don’t have to deal with the same kind of insults. As a genre fan, you become protective. You are The Watcher–or rather, The Reader–on The Wall.

But in the end, the book is the book. The show is the show. I’m glad to accept that I’m going to get different things from one than from the other–and if one of them ends up sucking, it doesn’t diminish the other. It’s just one more reason that it’s a good thing to own both a TV set and a bookcase.

TIME Books

The Gang From Always Sunny Has Written a Self-Help Book

FX Season Premiere Screenings For "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" And "The League"
Jason LaVeris—FilmMagic / Getty Images

Because they're totally the kind of people who should be giving you advice

Dennis, Dee, Mac, Frank and Charlie from Always Sunny have already taught us plenty of things: how to sing a cappella, how to excel at the game of Flip Cup, and how not to act on a first date, for example. Since they’re so good at teaching people how to live their lives, they’ve written a self-help book, which will be released in January. (It’s available for pre-order on Amazon now.)

The book is called It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today. Based on the description, it’s actually a bit hard to tell if it’s really a self-help book, or if it’s simply a book outlining the story of the gang writing a self-help book:

The Gang may have finally found their golden ticket. Left alone to close down Paddy’s Pub one night, Charlie Kelly inadvertently scored himself, and his friends, the opportunity of a lifetime—a book deal with a real publishing company, real advance money, and a real(ly confused) editor. While his actual ability to read and write remains unclear, Charlie sealed the deal with some off-the-cuff commentary on bird law and the nuances of killing rats (and maybe with the help of some glue fumes in the basement with an unstable editor on a bender). While The Gang is stunned by the news, and the legally binding, irrevocable contract left on the bar, they are also ready to rise to the task and become millionaires—and of course, help Charlie actually write the book.

But further details suggest that the book will indeed include some real advice:

In their own inimitable voices, Charlie, Mac, Dennis, Sweet Dee, and Frank weigh in on important topics like Relationships, Financial Success and Career, Fashion and Personal Grooming, Health and Diet, and Survival Skills, providing insane advice, tips, tricks, and recipes (Rum Ham anyone?) as only they can.

We already knew they were crab people — now we also know they’re book people.

TIME Business

The Suburbs Will Die: One Man’s Fight to Fix the American Dream

The End of the Suburbs
The End of the Suburbs Courtesy Penguin Press

Engineer Charles Marohn worked his whole life trying to make his community better—until the day he realized he was ruining it.

If you looked up “Minnesota nice” in the dictionary you might see a picture of Charles Marohn. Affable and mild-mannered, Marohn, who goes by Chuck, grew up the eldest of three sons of two elementary school teachers on a small farm near Brainerd, the central Minnesota city best known as the backdrop for the movie Fargo. Marohn (pronounced “mer-OWN”) graduated from Brainerd High School, entered the National Guard on his seventeenth birthday, and went on to study civil engineering at the University of Minnesota. He now lives with his wife, two daughters, and two Samoyeds in East Gull Lake, a small city north of Brainerd. Marohn, forty, likes the Minnesota Twins, reads voraciously, and is a proud Republican. He’s the friendliest guy you’re likely to meet. He’s also a revolutionary who’s trying to upend the suburbs as we know them.

After graduating from college, Marohn went to work as a municipal engineer in his hometown and spent several years working with the small towns around the greater Brainerd area, putting projects together that would build roads, pipes, storm drains, and all kinds of infrastructure. It was the mid-1990s, the area was booming, and Marohn was laying down the systems that helped the area grow. “I built sprawl,” he now says.

Often his work required him to knock on the doors of residents, many of whom he knew from growing up, and tell them about changes that might impact their property. In order to make the town’s roads safer, he would explain, engineers were going to have to widen the road in front of their house or cut down a tree in their yard. When his neighbors would get upset and ask why or try to protest—the roads were hardly trafficked at all, and sparse enough to almost be rural, they would point out—he’d explain that the town was required to make these changes in order to comply with the book of engineering standards to which it had to adhere. The code, put in place by the town but derived from state and national standards, dictated that roads must have an ample “recovery zone,” or a wide berth to accommodate cars that veer off the road, and that drivers have improved “sight distance,” the distance a driver needs to be able to see in order to have enough room to be able to react before colliding with some- thing in the roadway. When residents pointed out that the recovery zone was also their yard, and that their kids played kick ball and hopscotch there, Marohn recommended they put up a fence, so long as it was outside the right-of-way. He was sorry, he told them, but the standards required it. The trees were removed, the roads widened, the asphalt paved and repaved. “I never stepped back from my own assumptions to consider that I wasn’t making anything safer,” Marohn says. “In reality, I was making their street more dangerous, and in the process, I was not only taking out their trees, I was pretending I knew more than them.”

In 2000, Marohn found himself assigned to fix a leaky pipe in Remer, a small town north of Brainerd. It was a routine project, but it would ultimately lead him to an epiphany. A sewer pipe that sat under a highway had a leak that was allowing clean groundwater to flow in. That meant that the clean water was getting pumped out to sewage treatment ponds, which were exceeding their capacity and would soon overflow. It was easily fixable, but it would cost $300,000, a hefty sum considering the town’s total budget for such projects was $120,000 a year; sure enough, the town said no. But the pipe was going to cause the sewage ponds to overflow, undermine the dike, knock down its wall, and pour into the neighboring river “in like a catastrophic way,” Marohn says. So he decided to find a federal grant to pay for it.

He discovered that the project was too small; grant agencies didn’t seem to be interested in a $300,000 renovation, he found, presumably because it wasn’t worth the time in administration costs. So he expanded the project, proposing the government pay not just to fix the pipe but also to extend the sewers, expand the size of the pumps, and more, at a cost of $2.6 million. The grant agency gave the green light; the state and federal government put up all the money except for

$130,000, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture financed at below-market rates over a forty-year time period. Marohn was hailed a hero. “Everybody was super thrilled with me because I got this project approved out of nowhere,” he says. And since the project would connect more homes, it would allow the town to promote the fact that it was creating capacity for the city to grow.

But over the next several years, as Marohn went back to Remer to do additional work—he had by then gotten a degree in urban planning—and saw that the town was in the process of doing a similar project with their water system, he realized he had created an unsustainable financial situation. Thanks to the leaky pipe he fixed, the town now had to bear the maintenance costs of a system that was double the size of the one it had before. “I bought them time,” he says, “but I gave them a giant unfunded liability.”

Marohn started questioning the rationale of this kind of system. The government paid the up-front costs of the massive project, but there was no accounting for the significant cost to maintain the system. The town’s property taxes wouldn’t come close to covering those costs, which meant the city would ultimately need to take on more debt. And the system was likely to need replacing well before forty years were up—the duration of the financing he’d procured—which would require an investment of equal or larger size. Marohn began to wonder whether all the work he’d been doing to supposedly help the city grow was really necessary or whether it was going to end up hurting it and, on top of that, whether the roads he was helping to “improve” were designed to accommodate the way people lived or were that way simply because the planning books said that was the way they had to be built.

He connected with a few friends in the local planning community who shared his concerns. In November 2009 they started a Web site called Strong Towns to start raising questions about America’s approach to land use and the financial impracticalities suburban sprawl encourages. Rich in case studies and educational materials, Strong Towns lobbies for communities that are financially productive and grow responsibly. But it’s also a screed against what Marohn sees as development patterns that go against the logic of design, finance, and the best interests of residential communities and everyday Americans.

One night soon after he started the Web site, Marohn wasn’t sure what to write about, so he composed a blog post on his experience tearing down trees in his neighbors’ yards, an idea that had been bouncing around in his head for a while. Declaring his work “professional malpractice,” he described how the wider, faster streets he was sent to build weren’t only financially wasteful but unsafe. “In retrospect, I understand that it was utter insanity,” he wrote in the essay, which he called “Confessions of a Recovering Engineer.” “Wider, faster, treeless roads not only ruin our public places, they kill people,” he wrote, referring to statistics of traffic deaths each year that, in his view, were a direct result of poor design. He penned the piece in less than an hour and went to bed. When he got up, his in-box was full of comments from people in the planning community with whom his words had resonated.

The Web site soon became a nonprofit, which became a series of podcasts, videos, and live neighborhood events around the country called the “Curbside Chat.” A local nonprofit threw in three years’ worth of funding, and in mid-2012 Marohn quit his job to focus on Strong Towns, which is now a robust site packed with in-depth articles, podcasts, a Curbside Chat companion booklet for public officials, and a “Strong Towns University” section with instructional videos featuring Marohn and his partners discussing things like the ins and outs of wastewater management. Marohn’s work has brought him attention within the planning community; he now travels all over the country speaking at conferences, hosting Curbside Chats, and spreading his message. But all, he says, for the greater good. “We’re not bomb throw- ers,” he says. “We like to think of ourselves as intellectual disruptors.”

Marohn primarily takes issue with the financial structure of the suburbs. The amount of tax revenue their low-density setup generates, he says, doesn’t come close to paying for the cost of maintaining the vast and costly infrastructure systems, so the only way to keep the machine going is to keep adding and growing. “The public yield from the suburban development pattern is ridiculously low,” he says. One of the most popular articles on the Strong Towns Web site is a five-part series Marohn wrote likening American suburban development to a giant Ponzi scheme.

Here’s what he means. The way suburban development usually works is that a town lays the pipes, plumbing, and infrastructure for housing development—often getting big loans from the government to do so—and soon after a developer appears and offers to build homes on it. Developers usually fund most of the cost of the infrastructure because they make their money back from the sale of the homes. The short-term cost to the city or town, therefore, is very low: it gets a cash infusion from whichever entity fronted the costs, and the city gets to keep all the revenue from property taxes. The thinking is that either taxes will cover the maintenance costs, or the city will keep growing and generate enough future cash flow to cover the obligations. But the tax revenue at low suburban densities isn’t nearly enough to pay the bills; in Marohn’s estimation, property taxes at suburban densities bring in anywhere from 4 cents to 65 cents for every dollar of liability. Most suburban municipalities, he says, are therefore unable to pay the maintenance costs of their infrastructure, let alone replace things when they inevitably wear out after twenty to twenty-five years. The only way to survive is to keep growing or take on more debt, or both. “It is a ridiculously unproductive system,” he says.

Marohn points out that while this has been an issue as long as there have been suburbs, the problem has become more acute with each additional “life cycle” of suburban infrastructure (the point at which the systems need to be replaced—funded by debt, more growth, or both). Most U.S. suburbs are now on their third life cycle, and infrastructure systems have only become more bloated, inefficient, and costly. “When people say we’re living beyond our means, they’re usually talking about a forty-inch TV instead of a twenty-inch TV,” he says. “This is like pennies compared to the dollars we’ve spent on the way we’ve arranged ourselves across the landscape.”

Marohn and his friends are not the only ones warning about the fix we’ve put ourselves in. In 2010 the financial analyst Meredith Whitney wrote a now-famous report called The Tragedy of the Commons, whose title was taken from the economic principle that individuals will act on their own self-interest and deplete a shared resource for their own benefit, even if that goes against the long-term common good. In her report, Whitney said states and municipalities were on the verge of collapse thanks in part to irresponsible spending on growth. Likening the municipalities’ finances and spending patterns to those of the banks leading up to the financial crisis of 2008, Whitney explained how spending has far outpaced revenues—some states had spent two or three times their tax receipts on everything from infrastructure to teacher salaries to libraries—all financed by borrowing from future dollars.

Marohn, too, claims we’ve tilled our land in inefficient ways we can’t afford (Whitney is one of Marohn’s personal heroes). The “suburban experiment,” as he calls it, has been a fiscal failure. On top of the issues of low-density tax collection, sprawling development is more expensive to build. Roads are wider and require more paving. Water and sewage service costs are higher. It costs more to maintain emergency services since more fire stations and police stations are needed per capita to keep response times down. Children need to be bused farther distances to school. One study by the Denver Regional Council of Governments found that conventional suburban development would cost local governments $4.3 billion more in infrastructure costs than compact, “smart” growth through 2020, only counting capital construction costs for sewer, water, and road infrastructure. A 2008 report by the University of Utah’s Arthur C. Nelson estimated that municipal service costs in low-density, sprawling locations can be as much as 2.5 times those in compact, higher-density locations.

Marohn thinks this is all just too gluttonous. “The fact that I can drive to work on paved roads where I can drive fifty-five miles an hour the minute I leave my driveway despite the fact that I won’t see another car for five miles,” he says, “is living beyond our means on a grand, grand scale.”

Marohn is one of a growing number of sprawl refugees I encountered during my reporting—people who at one point helped enable the building of modern-day suburbia but now spend their days lobbying against it with the zeal of religious converts. Some, like Marohn, focus on the unsustainability of the financial structure. Others focus on the actual physical design of the suburbs and point to all the ways it’s flawed. Most of them argue for the development of more walkable communities closer to public transportation. But their unifying criticism is that our spread-out development pattern was manufactured, packaged, and sold to Americans as part of an American Dream that fails to deliver on its promises.

Leigh Gallagher is an assistant managing editor at Fortune and a frequent guest on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, among other national television and radio news shows. She lives in New York City. This article is excerpted from Gallagher’s book, The End of the Suburbs, out now in paperback.

MONEY freebies

Marvel Comics or The New Yorker: Choose Your Binge-Reading Bargain

To celebrate Comic-Con and the makeover of a literary journal's website, fans can binge on cheap (or free!) all-you-can-read deals.

If you’re looking to escape summer’s swelter by binge-reading about alternate universes, bizarre worlds, and fascinating people you’ve never heard about and didn’t think could exist in real life, man, are you in luck!

Not one but two binge-reading bonanzas have recently made their debut. First, The New Yorker announced that it is opening the entirety of its archives to all, free of charge, for the entire summer, to celebrate the makeover of its website. (Normally, much of the archive is accessible only for paid subscribers.)

Then, in a deal coinciding with this week’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, Marvel Comics is offering a special “Marvel Unlimited” package, with one month’s access to more than 15,000 digital comics for just 99¢. (New subscribers must use the promo code SDCC14 when signing up for the service, which usually runs $9.99 per month or $69 per year.)

What might you read? Wired suggests that Marvel subscribers should check out some of the Infinite Comics that have been specially designed for the digital experience, such as the six-issue Captain America: The Winter Soldier (inspiration for the recent film). Meanwhile, BuzzFeed, Vox, Digg, and Slate are among the many publications that have weighed in with recommendations for New Yorker reading while the archive door is wide open.

The suggested free New Yorker readings from Business Insider are heavy on gripping but grisly tales of war, genocide, and evil, such as Seymour Hersh’s “Torture at Abu Ghraib” and Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” the latter about the trial of the infamous Nazi officer Adolph Eichmann. After reading some of these stories, it might be time to turn one’s attention back over to Captain America.

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