In an attempt to read more writing about books, I’m going to start highlighting the most interesting parts of the NYT Book Section. If this goes well, I may start reading other book reviews regularly! Oh, boy! One of my goals for next year is to learn how to write a thoughtful review that really engages with a text. I like the idea of reviewing as a sort of conversation between writer and reader, rather than as a takedown, although those are kind of amazing fun, AMIRIGHT? I am.
–Jaimy Gordon wins the NBA. Her win comes out of left field. Nice to see an underdog well into her career (why yes, that is a euphemism for old) get this kind of recognition. Also, I’m really happy it didn’t go to some wunderkind or Jonathan Franzen, because the last thing that guy needs is more people to buy his book. Confession: I really want to love the Franzen, but I just don’t, although I can recognize that he’s brilliant.
-Evan Thomas’s account of the death of the Sioux leader Crazy Horse is one for the reading list. There’s something about societies that are on the cusp of extinction that is so fascinating to me, especially the cult that tends to form around the idea of death, and, more specifically, a good death. Reading Gore Vidal’s Julian a couple of years ago, I remember thinking that the transition from paganism to Christianity (a religion intensely concerned with death) was a symptom of Roman decline in this same vein. Offensive?
–Nassim Nicholas Taleb is vicious and amazing. Of the quoted aphorisms, my favorite is “modernity: we created youth without heroism, age without wisdom, and life without grandeur.” I don’t know though. I find it hard to believe that Athens, for example, didn’t have its own fools whose incontinent ramblings haven’t survived history Glenn Beck to illustrate the cowardice, stupidity, and banality that have probably always been a huge part of life for the majority of people. I don’t doubt that most people’s ideas of heroism and wisdom are debased and cheap, just that that’s a new phenomenon. It’s worth noting that while we as a modern global society may have produced reality TV, we also produced Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I mean, right? How bad can we be? Right? He also says “A good maxim allows you to have the last word without even starting a conversation.”
–Oliver Sacks writes on the plasticity of the brain and his own cancer. I listened to Terri Gross interviewing Sacks fairly recently and I’d like to read one of his books. It’ll be either this or the one about the hat.
The first weekly “Oh, snap! You just got told.” award goes to:
George Packer, for this line from his (generally favorable) review of Timothy Garton Ash’s book Facts are Subversive: “He sticks the label ‘brave, outspoken, slightly simplistic Enlightenment fundamentalist’ on the Somali-born writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and in doing so he seems to classify her as the equivalent opposite of the radical Islamists who have put her under a death threat. In a subsequent debate with Hirsi Ali before the Royal Society of Arts in London, Garton Ash claimed that he had been misunderstood, abjured both the phrase and any ill or condescending intent, and announced that when it comes to the principles of a free society, he is himself a fundamentalist. The essay, though, makes it clear that his critics did not misunderstand him.”