Category Archives: Books

Article for the fall

This is a great article for the kids to sink their teeth into as they think about our history class. First, the headline:

Is the World Really Falling Apart, or Does It Just Feel That Way?

We can spend a few minutes discussing their answer but then we can turn to the question of how you’d try and answer this question, as a scholar, but particularly as a historian. Then we’d read it

The entire article is here and we’ll read this one way or another — out loud, small groups, quietly — and then discuss how the author approached the inquiry.

Something I’m thinking about, having just finished Damnation Spring (an unbelievably good novel that you should track down right now) is how we make sense of the present day and how much human beings can ignore.

Fisher, Max. “Is the World Really Falling Apart, or Does It Just Feel That Way?” The New York Times, July 12, 2022, sec. World.

George Saunders

Finished this book awhile ago but had two quotes I wanted to hold onto:

“To study the way we read is to study the way the mind works: the way it evaluates a statement for truth, the way it behaves in relation to another mind (i.e., the writer’s) across space and time. What we’re going to be doing here, essentially, is watching ourselves read (trying to reconstruct how we felt as we were, just now, reading). Why would we want to do this? Well, the part of the mind that reads a story is also the part that reads the world; it can deceive us, but it can also be trained to accuracy; it can fall into disuse and make us more susceptible to lazy, violent, materialistic forces, but it also can be urged back to life, transforming us into more active, curious, alert readers of reality.” (p.8)

“A story is a series of incremental pulses, each of which does something to us. Each puts us in a new place, relative to where we just were. Criticism is not some inscrutable, mysterious process. It’s just a matter of (I) noticing ourselves responding to a work of art, moment by moment, and (2)getting better at articulating that response.
What stress to my students is how empowering this process is. The world is full of people with agendas, trying to persuade us to act on their behalf (spend on their behalf, fight and die on their behalf, oppress others on their behalf). But inside us is what Hemingway called a “built-in, shockproof shit-detector.” How do we know something is shit? We watch the way the deep, honest part of our mind reacts to it.
And that part of the mind is the one that reading and writing refine into sharpness.” (pp.60-1).

Saunders, George. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life. New York: Random House, 2021.

Wendell Berry, Andy Catlett

First passage:

Starting with those conversations so long ago with Aunt Sarah Jane, I have learned to understand the old structure of racism as a malevolent convention, the malevolence of which is hard to locate in the conscious intentions of most people. It was a circumstance that was mostly taken for granted. It was inexcusable, yet we had the formidable excuse of being used to it. It was an injustice both accommodated and varyingly obscured not only by daily custom, but also by the exigencies and preoccupations of daily life. We left the issue alone, not exactly by ignoring it, but by observing an elaborate etiquette that permitted us to ignore it. White people who wished to think well of themselves did not use the language of racial insult in front of black people. But the the problem for us white people, as we had finally to understand, was that we could not be selectively complicit. To be complicit at all, even thoughtlessly by custom, was to be complicit in the whole extent and reach of the injustice. It is hard for a customary indifference to unstick itself from the abominations to which it tacitly consents. But we were used to it. What is the hardest to get used to maybe, once you are aware, is the range of things humans are able to get used to. I was more used to this once than I am now. Berry, Wendell. Andy Catlett: Early Travels. ( Emeryville, CA: Counterpoint, 2006) 75-76.

Second passage:

Increasingly over the last maybe forty years, the thought has come to me that the old world in which our people lived by the work of their hands, close to weather and earth, plants and animals, was the true world; and that the new world of cheap energy and ever cheaper money, honored greed, and dreams of liberation from every restraint, is mostly theater. This new world seems a jumble of scenery and props never quite believable, an economy of fantasies and moods, in which it is hard to remember either the timely world of nature or the eternal world of the prophets and poets. And I fear, I believe I know, that the doom of the older world I knew as a boy will finally afflict the new one that replaced it.
The world I knew as a boy was flawed, surely, but it was substantial and authentic. The households of my grandparents seemed to breathe forth a sense of the real cost and worth of things. Whatever came, came by somebody’s work.

Berry, Wendell. Andy Catlett: Early Travels. (Emeryville, CA: Counterpoint, 2006), 93.