Yes folks, it’s time for another edition of What to Read This Weekend, where the devoted staff of The Lost Salt Atlas (yes, that’s me) cruise the troubled waters of the interwebs in search of meaningful things to read. It’s about slowing down and paying attention, using some your online time to discover something more lasting than a few clickbait articles and selfies.
In that spirit of attention, Sven Birkerts at Aeon reflects on the meaning found in the smallest details of consciousness. Kept home by an injury, Birkerts ponders, in a slow and delightfully patient way, what he sees while exercising on a stationary bike rather than his usual walks outside.
Here attention meets distraction or, better yet, daydreaming. They are not the same thing. One is the special curse of our age — the self diluted and thinned to a blur by all the vying signals — while the other hearkens back to childhood, seems the very emblem of the soul’s freedom.
In the New York Review of Books, President Obama and novelist Marilynne Robinson have an extended conversation about faith, empathy, and the increasing polarization of political dialogue in America. (Part two is here.) Robinson is a little too pious for my taste, but it’s a good, meandering discussion. The highlight is this one admission from Obama:
When I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president, and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that.
Not long ago, I returned from a trip to Rome, and among the ruins, it’s astonishing to imagine all the Roman Empire achieved two thousand years ago. Historian Mary Beard, however, in an article for the Guardian, cautions us not to idealize the Romans too much or draw too many parallels to our own world. After all, we don’t have gladiators, slaves, or throw our unwanted babies on trash heaps. (Not quite yet, anyway.)
In the New Yorker, treat yourself to the glowing, intricate paintings of Njdeka Akunyili Crosby, a Nigerian-born painter who lives and works in Los Angeles. Imbued with vivid sunlight, Akunyili Crosby’s pictures portray domestic scenes wedged between two cultures. Worked into the paintings (some tenderly erotic) are hundreds of photographs the artist brings back from her travels to Nigeria.
Quantum physics is bizarre, counterintuitive, and completely fascinating. I can’t even begin to grasp it, but I’m captivated by the recent story of two scientists who conducted a successful experiment to prove Bell’s Theorem. They found that two entangled particles, when observed miles apart, can be affected by how one researcher looks at them. It’s a laboratory proof of the action at a distance Einstein once dismissed as mere “spookiness.” What’s next for quantum physics? Over at Nautilus, there’s great, detailed profile of a scientist conducting experiments to determine if space itself might be “chunky” that is, only divisible into discrete units. His research has the potential to bridge the gap between the big-scale stuff of general relativity and the infinitesimally tiny scale of quantum physics.
Meanwhile, Boston Review samples the poetry of Philip B. Williams, a talented young poet whose nearly tactile flow of language underscores an exploration of the inner struggles of intimacy as well as his relation to the deeps scars of racism:
I have not been long in the meaning of shadow, the one shared bruise of all things. . . It keeps quiet, working harder than the mind to make real what is not, though it is the mind that imagines the shadow having its own language, its own dark idiom translating the body onto whatever surface will hold it. The shadow is the mind, the mind’s work, seen.