Here’s another selection of reading culled from the Interwebs for your delight and edification. Today’s illustration is from the New York Public Library, which recently made 180,000 images in the public domain available on its website. It’s a good way to waste a whole day…but I’d recommend you try to read at least one of these pieces below before the weekend’s over…
Every January, the online literary journal The Millions puts out its great preview of fiction to look forward to in the coming year. Among the potential gems on the way are a new novel by Elizabeth Strout (author of Olive Kittredge), new fiction by Tahar Ben Jelloun, Morocco’s most acclaimed writer, new novels by Yann Martel, Don DeLillo, Mark Hadden, Annie Proulx, and a collection of stories by Nigerian-born British author Helen Oyeyemi. Plus heaps of new authors as yet undiscovered.
Robert Trivers completely overturned psychology in the 1970s with brilliant insights into the evolutionary benefits of altruism and how sexual competition is a driver of evolution. But he’s also quite a character. He once joined the Black Panthers, fought off knife-wielding attacker in Jamaica, and he’s notorious for having a low tolerance for stupidity in his colleagues. Matt Hutson’s fantastic profile of the irascible researcher in Pyschology Today is a thoroughly enjoyable read. (Hat tip to 3 Quarks Daily .)
One of the goals of this website is to find (and create) deeper meaning in the online world. We all know that reading online can devolve into a mind-numbed coma of scroll-and-like on Facebook or Twitter. But in a great essay in Nautilus, Paul La Farge argues that part of the problem with online reading is the issue of low expectations: studies show we read paper slower and more carefully because we expect the experience to be more meaningful. La Farge then points to new online writing experiments like the digital novel Pry as proof that internet reading can buck the clickbait trend. You just have to search harder… and ignore the crap.
On that same topic, my social media feeds are bloated with all manner of positive thinking: inspiring quotes, self-help posters, and tips on taking control of one’s life. In a wonderfully bitchy cri de coeur, Chloe King calls out the “radical self-help” movement and people like Oprah Winfrey for insisting all we need is positive thinking to have a better life. Such advice, King claims, is complete bullshit and makes people on the lower end of the economic ladder feel guilty for their unhappiness:
Changing your attitude is not going to change or help to dismantle structural injustice and a failed and unsustainable economic model which serves only the elite rich of this world, and exploits the rest of us, particularly the working class and those living in poverty. As far as I am concerned positive thinking will fucking ruin your life.
In Asymptote magazine, Vietnamese poet Nhã Thuyên’s poem The Ship is a lovely, associative, prose-poem about love, alienation, and her compulsive need to put experience into words:
i will do nothing more harmless than write unfaithful and chaotic poems, with utterly stupid fingers crying out for emancipation by way of obedience to instinct, emancipation by way of obedience, truly absurd, no obedience leads to emancipation, should break through and rebel, should have courage to see falling blood, someone is smiling, someone is gently squeezing my hand, someone there, someone is gently squeezing my hand, someone is inviting me on a journey up the road, right above the port, i refuse like i’m not refusing. . .
(Nhã Thuyên is the editor AJAR magazine, and her poem is translated by Kaitlin Rees, a friend of mine in Hanoi).
Reporting for the New Yorker, Samanth Subramanian writes about the systematic killing of atheist bloggers in Bangladesh. Intimidated and attacked with machetes by Islamist radicals, these writers trying to create an open, secular society continue to courageously type, despite the government’s tepid response. Subramanian makes it clear how one blogger is under constant threat:
“If I can’t write about politics and religion, I feel I have nothing to write.” And he changed his footwear.
I looked at his feet, clad in gray Power sneakers with banana-yellow laces. “So that you can run?”
“So that I can run.”
On a lighter note, the man who invented the spork, that disposable, multifunction utensil, gets his due in a profile at Vox. Rather than the fast-food implement we know today, the spork was originally intended to for the elite clubs of 19th century New York. Its inventor, Samuel W. Francis, was an eccentric renaissance man, medical doctor, novelist, and inventor whose other inspirations included instant tea and glass gloves for burn victims.
That’s all for this week. Happy reading!