Take what you want and do what you will

This page regularly offers ideas for books or stories or works in other media, from those who can’t act upon them. In all cases they are offered in the hopes that these worthy projects will find their way to someone with the time and wherewithal to pursue them.


Someone should write a cultural history of the T-shirt. Over the last seven decades, at least, the T-shirt has become an acceptable form of outerwear for men, women, and children, and has even become an expected site for writing and images, to an extent beyond any other article of clothing, except maybe the baseball cap. Many transformations in the way we think about clothing were probably required along the way.

With the exception of JetBlue—which offers dozens of channels of DirecTV piped into every seat on every flight—airplanes are one of the last places where the majority of people, regardless of their everyday habits, find themselves reading. For the most part, they read mass market thrillers: Nelson DeMille, Tom Clancy, and the like. Thus, most airport terminal bookshops offer a selection almost entirely made up of those titles. What if we assume, however, that people tend to read the mass-market titles largely because terminal bookshops stock very few alternatives? Some terminals, in a few specially-chosen airports, should experiment with bookshops and newsstands that stock exclusively “literary” titles; it is at least conceivable that, given how many people read on airplanes, this could have a tremendous effect on the broader reading habits of the nation.

During the Cold War, American engineers and intelligence gatherers dug underground tunnels from West to East Berlin, in order to listen in on East German communications. These tunnels were very elaborate, made of metal coated in rubber (to minimize sound) and air-conditioned (to prevent the snow above the tunnels melting). Someone should write a story, fictionalized or not, about the people who worked inside these tunnels.

Someone with access to Eddie Murphy should ask him about his occasional but increasing habit of appearing on movie posters with his left eyebrow raised. Excepting Shrek (which doesn’t really count), the left eyebrow is raised on posters for all of Murphy’s movies released in 2001 and 2002: Dr Dolittle 2, Showtime, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, and I-Spy. The left eyebrow is also raised on posters for The Golden Child and Boomerang. In the Boomerang poster, the eyebrow is a prominent visual element—almost graphic—and even looks like a boomerang, as if it were planned.

There should be more writing about tourism as an institution. Not travelogue, but an investigation of the repeated event, the reconstruction of one culture in the trappings of another, the obscenity and the terrifying allure of the eco-resort, the romanticism versus the awkward reality of backpackers. Where does curiosity go astray? Where does it become productive? When is tourism about curiosity? When is it about something uglier? 50,000-60,000 words, due November 15th, 2003.

Someone should start a fictional clothing and home furnishings catalog on the model of the old, defunct J. Peterman catalogs, only cooler. The images should be beautiful, the descriptions fantastic, the products themselves impossible. Shopping in catalogs that no longer sell anything could make possible an extra-sumptuary shopping experience unpolluted by the knowledge that the catalog offers actual things that one cannot afford.

Scientists should clone several varieties of ancient plants so that people can grow “jurassic gardens.”


Please send your ideas to [email protected] We’re not looking for ideas that are funny jokes. The following readers contributed to this month’s assortment: Scott Woodham, Gertie Hoyt, Michael Deters, Eliza Gregory, and Nick Valvo.

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