Category Archives: Literature

Weekly Reading

Articles that Lady in Red found fascinating this week:

  1. When it’s okay to adopt the dialect of your audience: “It Wasn’t ‘Verbal Blackface.’ AOC Was Code-Switching.” https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/04/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-code-switches-black-english/586723/
  2. David Frum elegantly documents Canada’s sweetheart stepping in it: “Justin Trudeau Falls From Grace” https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/04/snc-lavalin-justin-trudeaus-fall-grace/586645/
  3. “Nobody wanted to hear me read ‘Ozymandias.’” Why are we all loving the Varsity Blues scandal?: “They Had It Coming” https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/04/what-college-admissions-scandal-reveals/586468/
  4. The best travel writing you may ever read: “Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer” https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/travel/thin-places-where-we-are-jolted-out-of-old-ways-of-seeing-the-world.html
  5. “‘I am synthetic life form ‘Yoko K.,’ assembled in the US with components made in Japan…designed to assume the role of an ‘electronic musician.’ I am one of many secret agents sent to this time to plant magical thinking in people through the use of ‘pre-22nd century nostalgia Mars pop music.’” How to make hospital beeps more pleasant and more meaningful: “Anatomy of a beep: A medical device giant and an avant-garde musician set out to redesign a heart monitor’s chirps” https://www.statnews.com/2018/09/10/medtronic-musician-redesign-heart-monitors-beeps/

The Pulitzer at 101 Years

Starz network recently ran the 2017 documentary, The Pulitzer at 100.  Its 90 minutes is made up of asynchronous blocks describing Pulitzer’s immigration to America, yellow journalism vs journalism-as-academic-discipline, winners’ reflections on career effects, and dramatic readings, photos, and musical samplings from past winning works.  The documentary assumes a cursory knowledge of the writing prize, but beyond that does give a sufficient survey of the institution (albeit an over self-congratulatory one).

One non-fiction highlight was the reference to Sheri Fink’s article about the deaths at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

Juno Diaz’s commentary was another high point.  This week, he happens to have an arresting essay in the New Yorker about being raped as a child and its effects on his life, relationships, and writing.

In sum, while writing prizes are somewhat arbitrary and limiting by nature of the temporal structure (genius is not meted out equally each year, but prizes are), retrospectives such as this one can be both a reminder of classic works worth a revisit, and as a means of discovering something new.





Book Review: The Road to Character

By David Brooks
2015
270 pgs

A meditation: Why is it we have a reluctance to hold people accountable on the big things that matter or that hurt people, while only judging and confronting each other on small matters of taste?   Perhaps because our culture has made moral relativism a virtue beyond reproach, which manifests itself in our daily life as having no confidence or authority for claiming right from wrong, but supreme confidence in our inconstant feelings.

How to live, treat others, and make decisions are skills not always attained from schools, parents, churches, or other institutions.  David Brooks attempts to partly fill this void by offering his biographies and musings on proven historical figures.  Self-skepticism, moderation, and outward focus are all themes of the work, which is surprisingly refreshing with its shunning of the current obsession with self-directed truths.

In 1950, 12 percent of high school students told the Gallup Organization they considered themselves very important; by 2005, that figure was 80 percent.  The statistic is used in the book to show we have in fact lost something in the march of progress–the ability to see beyond ourselves.

The book holds our common wisdom up to the light and deliberately checks all facets.  Rather than seeming self-contradictory, it demonstrates the push-pull of competing and valid truths, the balance of which must be attained for a stable worldview.

MC highly recommends this as your next non-fiction read.  Mr. Brooks steadily holds interest with fresh angles on worn topics, just as in his New York Times columns.   One sees that being a person of character does not mean becoming less interesting, but more so.





Weekend Reading: 6/2

Why Americans Smile So Much: How immigration and cultural values affect what people do with their faces”

The Exquisitely English (and Amazingly Lucrative) World of London Clerks: It’s a Dickensian profession that can still pay upwards of $650,000 per year.

“With state budget in crisis, many Oklahoma schools hold classes four days a week”

Finally, some good answers to why the pollsters missed the 2016 election.

How Masculinity Can Adapt to Modern Times (and not by becoming more feminine)





The Case for Y’all

Y’all, as a one-word abbreviation of “you all,” ought to be accepted into modern English usage.

English is lacking a unique  second-person plural pronoun. In the past, “ye” served this crucial function, but it has since slipped into severe, irrevocable disfavor.

Supposedly, ye began to disappear after the 1600s because it was a formal pronoun, and once class distinctions became unclear, you–which had always been an appropriate catchall–became the simple pronoun for all occasions.

A demand for modern translations of the Bible also has reduced peoples’ exposure to old English words.

What besides “y’all” could round out our language?  “You guys” is offensive in its tackiness, familiarity, and misogyny.

“Yinz,” “you’uns,” “yous” and “youse guys” are each used in pockets of the world, but are inferior options to y’all because of obscurity, gender complications, or both.  The Ohio River Valley area around Pittsburgh is especially rich in use of historical language; it’s where both yinz and you’uns are at home there and there only.

Join me in supporting y’all, by using it whenever possible.  By the theories of the descriptive grammar school, if enough people use it, especially in published writings, we can finally make it formally recognized.





Lightning

A poem by Lady in Red from her writer’s worskshop

Lightning burns up close, kills, maims, and dazzles from far away–like truth.

White light of lightning is all colors at once; only a prism can break into it pieces of color. The prism breaks truth into pieces palatable and digestible. The prism of truth is time.

We must learn truth in successive pieces to prevent shock to the system, to prevent sudden death.

If we had all truth, would we die? Can the human mind and heart know of all pain and joy without bursting?

No.

This is why life is a moment stretching decades–for truth to wend its way through our digestive tract. The poison pill in slow powder form.  This death is not obliteration–it is the opposite–the consumption of humanity or of human experience–allowed to one person.  If we are selfish by nature, then this is the ultimate and most noble gluttony.

LightningBoltonblack5188





The Giving Tree

The NYT revisited the Shel Silverstein book “The Giving Tree” this week, and discussed whether the children’s classic portrayed unconditional love, or human selfishness.

Of course the answer is both.  Most people interpret the book as a metaphor for the lifelong, parental love for a child, and parents read the book to their children to teach that all they have is available to their children, no matter how ungrateful they may become.

Lady vividly remembers a teambuilding exercise at a former workplace years ago where all members of hospital leadership were sharing with the group favorite books.  Every other person–middle-aged parents all–cited the Giving Tree, usually while weeping.

Lady was struck with that panicky feeling of guilt, and FOMO.  Guilt over her own parents’ love, and FOMO of having never yet truly been a tree for someone else, or at least doing so willingly and happily.  Clearly, giving to the point of near self-destruction was What It Was All About–right?

But upon rereading in adulthood, the book is decidedly agnostic on the characters’ actions.  Says Rivka Galchen:

The actual story doesn’t extol the tree, or endorse the boy. The tree and the boy both do the very particular things they do, and say the particular things they say, and, talking tree notwithstanding, their relationship seems emotionally realistic. The story describes honestly something that is, which is very different from proposing what ought to be. To condemn “The Giving Tree” for having a female who gives in a way that destroys her is as invalid as condemning “Mrs. Dalloway” for having a soldier who commits suicide. Conversely, teaching “The Giving Tree” as a model for how a woman (or anyone) should be is like saying that same soldier sets an example. 

In the years since, I have spent episodes in the role of Tree, at first only as part of youthful experimentation, but on an ongoing basis by having found it to be enriching beyond comparison.  My only issue with the story is actually with its most common interpretation–that the stump is somehow lesser than the tall, powerful, blooming tree that it once was.  Who says a stump that provides rest is any less noble than a young one that grows apples?

The idea that your strengths and gifts are given to you to be used for others  is core to the major world religions, and to call the stump depleted may be technically true, but to miss the point–that unused gifts are an even bigger tragedy.

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13 NLV)