Category Archives: Articles of Note

Reading: Why the novel matters…

This is a terrific Sunday morning read. There are some terrific lines and I’ll track down the podcast to use in the classroom.

It’s not unknown for people of no remarkable genius to come away from reading, say, Anna Karenina, fancying that if only Tolstoy hadn’t done it, they could. I’d go so far as to say that it’s peculiar to the novel to empower readers in this way, stirring in them intimations of creative energy. The better a novel is, the more we feel it’s been found among the ruins of the language we share. Whatever is made of words belongs to us too.

Novels cannot by nature fail to be dialogic.

But I think something of value happens when we read, say The Ambassadors – of value as an affective stimulus, I mean – that doesn’t when we watch, say, The Sopranos. Don’t tell me The Sopranos is more fun. That might only mean that Tony Soprano is more engaging than Lambert Strether. He’s certainly got a more engaging name. There is, though, more than one kind of fun. And to say that reading more closely resembles study is not to be a killjoy: concentration and enjoyment are not opposites. Strange that when everyone’s running marathons and otherwise raising sweat for the hell of it, working hard at a novel is thought to take the fun away.

Maybe, just maybe, I could use this at the beginning of the year to set up the “why we read” conversation.

Advisory starter: two graduation speeches

Abby Wambach at Barnard College:

Segment one:

In that locker room, I learned that in order to become my very best—on the pitch and off—I’d need to spend my life letting the feelings and lessons of failure transform into my power. Failure is fuel. Fuel is power.

Women, listen to me. We must embrace failure as our fuel instead of accepting it as our destruction.

As Michelle Obama recently said: “I wish that girls could fail as well as men do and be okay. Because let me tell you watching men fail up—it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating to see men blow it and win. And we hold ourselves to these crazy, crazy standards.”

Segment two:

Here’s what’s important. You are allowed to be disappointed when it feels like life’s benched you. What you aren’t allowed to do is miss your opportunity to lead from the bench.

During that last World Cup, my teammates told me that my presence, my support, my vocal and relentless belief in them from the bench is what gave them the confidence they needed to win us that championship.

If you’re not a leader on the bench, don’t call yourself a leader on the field. You’re either a leader everywhere or nowhere.

Segment three:

As you go out into the world: Amplify each others’ voices. Demand seats for women, people of color and all marginalized people at every table where decisions are made. Call out each other’s wins and just like we do on the field: claim the success of one woman, as a collective success for all women.

Joy. Success. Power. These are not pies where a bigger slice for her means a smaller slice for you. These are infinite. In any revolution, the way to make something true starts with believing it is. Let’s claim infinite joy, success, and power—together.

Ira Glass at Columbia Journalism School

Segment one:

And as for me … there’s this thing the drummer for the Who once said that I relate to a lot. His name was Keith Moon. And when he tried to explain what he did for a living, he once said: “I … am the greatest … Keith-Moon-type drummer in the world.”

Segment two:

I am very aware that I make my living with a weird grab bag of skills that probably shouldn’t add up to anything. My primary skill is that I’m a good editor. That’s the main thing I do all week. From the start it was the one thing in journalism I had a natural talent for … an easy command of. I also have a bunch of showbizzy skills that go into packaging material into a program – pacing and flow and humor and emotional arcs. Stuff I learned basically in high school musicals and as a teenaged magician at children’s birthday parties.

Segment three:

For those of you who feel like your work still isn’t at the level of skill that you want it to be, I can offer this: I started at NPR when I was 19 … and was not a decent writer or reporter until a decade into it. Editing I could always do. But those other skills were hard fought and didn’t come easily. I was 36 when I started This American Life, 17 years into doing this.

It can take a long time to be as good as you want to be.

And be kind to yourself, during that period. And work hard.

Segment four:
(While he’s talking about journalism, he could be talking about anything…)

Don’t wait. Make the stuff you want to make now. No excuses. Don’t wait for the perfect job or whatever. Don’t wait. Don’t wait. Don’t wait. One of the advantages of being a journalist is you don’t need permission. You can go and run down the story now and then find a home for it. Pay someone you respect – pay a friend – a little money to be your editor and the person you talk to about your next steps. Don’t wait. You have everything you need. Don’t wait.

Some things I’ve read and want to remember

  • I liked this article on spice hunting and the resulting business. Will order when I can.

  • Time of the year for the terrific college essays. These five are awesome.

  • This piece on kitchen gadgets made me late for school (committing to eating oatmeal and reading one article only works if it’s a short piece). Made me want to track down all of Bee Wilson’s books, particularly after this quote:

    “But now we have moved on. Veganism seems to be where much of our cooking desire has moved, hence the incredible success of the spiralizer. When they started appearing a couple of years ago, I felt that spiralizers were destined for immediate obsolescence, but I was completely wrong. Maybe it’s because of low-carb diets or maybe it’s the rise of #plantbased on Instagram, but it turns out that the ability to turn a beet or zucchini into something resembling telephone wire speaks to more people than I ever knew.

  • How cross country skiing explains it all

    Great, short piece in the NYT Magazine.

    My favorite paragraph here:

    Instead of offering us distraction — the glittery melodrama of figure skating or the quirky novelty of curling — cross-country skiers lean right into a bleak truth: We are stranded on a planet that is largely indifferent to us, a world that sets mountains in our path and drops iceballs from 50,000 feet and tortures our skin with hostile air. There is no escaping it; the only noble choice is to strap on a helmet and slog right in. Cross-country skiing expresses something deep about the human condition: the absolute, nonnegotiable necessity of the grind. The purity and sanctity of the goddamn slog.

    Different levels

    I liked this video. It goes directly to many of the conversations we have about levels of understanding.

    It also goes to the question of how a kid can enter concepts that an expert does but in a different way. Possibly less sophisticated but definitely grappling with the same stuff.