It’s a beautiful morning in my part of the world, and I have coffee and a stack of new books — which is to say, everything is pretty much in place for the perfect Sunday. I’d forgotten I’d pre-ordered the UK edition of the Angela Davis essay collection pictured above, so having it arrive last week was a wonderful surprise. Yesterday I also got Raymie Nightingale, the new Kate DiCamillo, because I have no self-control. Before I dive into my reading, here’s what’s been on my mind this past week:
An essay in which the author explains why he has no interest in the lives of critics or in what he calls “confessional” writing has been making the rounds over the past few days; this got me thinking about how very interested I am in critics’ lives, as well as in the lives of other human beings in general. Most of all, I’m interested in criticism that comes with a context — in the kind that makes visible the fact that our reading of anything is shaped by our circumstances. All of this reminds of Leslie Jamison’s excellent “The Possibilities of the Personal”. I’ve probably linked to it in the past, but no matter — it continues to be important to me:
On a somewhat related note, I really enjoyed this piece: Black Women Writers and the Secret Space of Diaries.
Film Dialogue from 2,000 screenplays, Broken Down by Gender and Age. Sigh. I’ll be in the corner, continuing to make my way through lists of movies by and about women. Speaking of which, I’m almost done with the Indiewire list I mentioned the other day, so any further recommendations would be greatly appreciated.
I get very excited when people who make things I like talk about what they’ve been reading, so you can imagine my reaction to this: Lin-Manuel Miranda: By the Book.
Bitch Media interviews Sarah McCarry. She’s my favourite.
Ta-Nehisi Coates on how feminist criticism has shaped his approach to how women are depicted in Black Panther (which I so need to read).
Ferguson Library Director Scott Bonner on the purpose of libraries: Libraries are the public institutions that exist to nurture cultural literacy, lifelong learning, and bringing its community together.
On a worrying note, new research maps the extent of web filtering in public libraries. At least 98% of public libraries filter categories. This list of categories differs between each council, and includes categories such as “Abortion”, “LGBT”, ”alternative lifestyles”, “questionable”, “tasteless”, “payday loans”, “discrimination”, “self-help”and “sex education”.
This is about American public libraries, but the exact same is true in the UK: declining library usage correlates to funding cuts, rather than signalling libraries are becoming obsolete due to technological changes or any such nonsense:
Michelle Dean on Adrienne Rich’s feminist awakening, glimpsed through her never-before-published letters. As I said before, I’m really interested in the contexts that shape people’s way of thinking, so this was a great read. It was also especially timely for me because I’m reading Rich for the first time at the moment (I’m starting with her essay collection On Lies, Secrets and Silence).
Fictional Cops I Love, Ranked By How Guilty I, As An Anarchist, Feel For Loving Them. I thought this was great after reading the bit about Detective Jack Robinson from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, AND THEN I GOT TO SAM VIMES.
Why Luck Matters More Than You Might Think: When people see themselves as self-made, they tend to be less generous and public-spirited. This reminds me (yes, again) of Upheavals of Thought, of everything it says about trying to accept our common human vulnerability to factors beyond our control, and of all the reasons why that book hit me the way it did. (It’s been weeks since I finished it but I keep renewing it instead of returning it to the library, because I kind of want it to be in my house forever).
Speaking of which: Here’s a great interview with Martha Nussbaum.
The Year of Numbered Rooms by Emily St John Mandel:
A couple of weeks ago I read Dawn Foster’s Lean Out, an excellent book about the limitations of corporate feminism. This piece touches on some of the same concerns:
Lastly, here’s Neil Gaiman on Terry Pratchett’s memorial at The Barbican. I have a lot of feelings about the first paragraph of this post, and also about the photo of Neil wearing Terry’s hat. My friend and I entered the ticket raffle for the event, but we had no luck. As we said the day after, it was probably for the best: chances are that if we had been there we would still be crying right now.
I’m interested in essays that follow the infinitude of a private life toward the infinitude of public experience. I’m wary of seeking this resonance by extracting some easy moral from the grit and complication of personal particularity: love hurts, time heals, always look on the bright side. Instead, I’m drawn to essays that allow the messy threads of grief or incomprehension to remain ragged, to direct our gazes outward.
The correlation between investment and use makes sense. If libraries have more funds, they can have more staff, more classes, more copies of the latest bestseller, and—maybe most importantly—longer hours. Yet at the same time, people are so eager to use the library that they make time to visit even when hours have been shortened and collections have shrunk.
It was a year of loneliness and long flights and spectacular good fortune, a year of numbered rooms and standing behind podiums. “Culture,” I told the audience, “is an antidote to chaos,” although that year the chaos seemed exceptionally strong. It was a year of mass shootings, of blinking back tears in airport lounges beneath televisions tuned to CNN, of reading about new massacres in hotel rooms at night. The violence that year was stunning and constant and it was easy to conclude that it would never end.
But every day of the tour, in seven countries, I met people who cared about life, about civilization, about books, and by the end of the tour this seemed to me to be a reasonable antidote to despair. I thought very often about the world you’d be born into, about what it means to hold on to one’s humanity in the face of horror. In my life, the humanities have been the antidote to mere survival. In the book for which I traveled, the line Survival is insufficient is tattooed on someone’s skin.
Here’s where we are right now: Most Americans must consider their employment ahead of all other needs. Work schedules dominate our abilities to see friends and family, to care for our health concerns, to squeeze any drop of joy out of our day.
What if we didn’t have to work at an unhealthy pace? What if our lives weren’t job-first? We are a resource-rich country on a resource-rich earth—a truth that could continue in perpetuity if we were strategic about how we grew food and how we distributed energy. And how we spent our money.