Editor’s Note: The Sun’s Reader at Large, a.k.a. David Goodman, dedicates his leisure to reading voraciously and eclectically about politics, government, society, culture and literature. Every two weeks or so, the Sun will post for your pleasure and edification the Reader’s digest (pun intended) of some of the best and most thought-provoking articles, books and podcasts that Goodman has recently enjoyed. Please note that the italicized text is quoted and that some of the linked articles may be in publications that impose a pay wall. Neither the Sierra County Sun nor the Reader at Large endorses all the views expressed in the featured books and articles.
“Homeland Elegies” by playwright-turned-novelist Ayad Akhtar
The only one of Akhtar’s plays I have seen performed is “The Invisible Hand.” In both that play (and, from what I have read, in “Disgraced” and his other plays) and in this book—I am avoiding the “novel or memoir?” debate—he brilliantly weaves current political, economic, social and religious themes and developments into personal stories and narratives without letting his characters become two-dimensional embodiments of attitudes and without diminishing the complexity of the issues he is addressing.
Looking back at that trip [to Pakistan], I see now the broad outlines of the same dilemmas that would lead America into the era of Trump: seething anger; open hostility to strangers and those with views opposing one’s own; a contempt for news delivered by allegedly reputable sources; an embrace of reactionary moral posturing; civic and governmental corruption that no longer needed hiding; and married to all this, the ever-hastening redistribution of wealth to those who had it at the continued expense of those who didn’t.
New York Times (NYT) column (4/5/21): “Thank God for the Poets“ by Margaret Renkl
Thank God for our poets, here in the mildness of April and in the winter storms alike, who help us find the words our own tongues feel too swollen to speak. Thank God for the poets who teach our blinkered eyes to see these gifts the world has given us, and what we owe it in return.
In her essay “Excited Quotes” in the first issue (Autumn 2020) of “Liberties” journal, poetry scholar Helen Vendler examines the William Butler Yeats poem “The Second Coming.” She explores why the first verse is so often quoted (“The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”), especially in times of political turmoil (e.g., the past five years), but the rest of the poem is largely ignored. “The poem itself has become lost behind the quotability of its opening lines,” she contends. In her view, Yeats used the second verse to reject the persona who presumes to speak so prophetically in the first verse and to speak of something more dark and uncertain:
The “something” turns out to be a single historical fact: the exhaustion of Christian cultural authority after its “twenty centuries” of rule.
The three-part, six-hour PBS documentary “Hemingway” by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, which you can watch online here, captures the phenomenon of the writer who constructs a mythical persona for himself and is eventually worn down and consumed by the effort to live the myth.
In Hilton Als’s review of the documentary in the New Yorker, he explores that theme as well as the complexity of the influence of Gertrude Stein on Hemingway.
Part of the sadness at the core of the film “Hemingway” is how much life we see happening to the writer that he doesn’t seem to feel, or doesn’t want to feel, protecting a self he didn’t know, or could not face.
And Als asks this question:
But why a film about Hemingway now, and not, say, Faulkner? Is Faulkner not a more vibrant figure, who prefigured in his Snopes stories and novels the age of Trump and Derek Chauvin’s trial, and the Gordian knot of race that continues to choke large portions of our country? In this context, Burns and Novick’s “Hemingway” feels a little anachronistic, and “smells of the museums,” as Stein once said of Hemingway.
POLITICS AND SOCIETY
COVID-19 and Vaccinations
Washington Post (WP) (4/5/21): “Why tearing down Fauci is essential to the MAGA myth“ by Michael Gerson
But on the whole, American citizens have witnessed one of the most dramatic vindications of scientific expertise in our history. We have been healthier when we listened to the experts and sicker when we did not. This is the context in which the MAGA right has chosen to make Anthony S. Fauci—the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 — the villain in their hallucinogenic version of pandemic history.
New York Times (NYT) column (4/14/21): “These People Should Be Required to Get Vaccinated” by Ezekiel J. Emanuel, Aaron Glickman and Amaya Diana
We need to sharply reduce coronavirus infections to turn the tide and quell the pandemic. The best hope is to maximize the number of people vaccinated, especially among those who interact with many others and are likely to transmit the virus. How can we increase vaccinations? Mandates.
None of us likes being told what to do. But getting vaccinated is not just about our personal health, but the health of our communities and country. Health care workers are professionals whose primary obligation is to their patients’ health and well-being. Except in extreme cases, their personal preferences are secondary.
Protesting and Governing
NYT column (4/14/21): “Lessons for America From a Weird Portland“ by Nicholas Kristof
There was too much deference to people sowing chaos under the banner of social justice, perhaps for fear of seeming unprogressive, and after the feds left, the city never tried hard enough to pivot to re-establish order.
Grand gestures for justice are fine, but they can’t substitute for quiet competence in keeping people safe, getting people housed or picking up the garbage.
Guardian article (4/7/21): “Banks pledge to fight climate crisis—but their boards have deep links with fossil fuels” by Emily Holden and Emily Atkin
“The banks are gorging on doughnuts and then eating an apple afterwards,” said Richard Brooks, the Toronto-based climate finance director for Stand.earth. “We certainly can’t rely on banks or the private sector to lead us into climate safety and lead us toward emissions reductions. We need policy, we need regulation. We need government to act.”
Labor and Business
ProPublica article (4/13/21): “Lessons From Bessemer: What Amazon’s Union Defeat Means for the American Labor Movement“ by Alec MacGillis
As word came in last week of the RWDSU’s decisive loss in Bessemer—1,798 to 738, with another 500 or so ballots still under challenge by Amazon—there was this consolation for organizers and their allies: these things took time, all the more so when the employer was as enormous as this one. Still, the numbers were stark, especially when one considered that barely half of the 5,876 workers who were eligible had even bothered to take part in the election.
One can’t help but wonder what sort of transformational event or outside force it would take to have a similar effect on Amazon and its workers, after this cataclysmic year that served to make the company only that much larger and more dominant.