Welcome to Your Weekend Reads, a collection of thought-provoking fiction, poetry, essays, and articles from around the web. This week, it’s a politics-free selection to give you a break from the electoral earthquake that happened in the U.S. last week. Click on either the link or photo, and enjoy reading!
David Remnick’s profile of Leonard Cohen in the New Yorker is essential reading now that the genius songwriter and gentleman has passed away. It’s an intimate and far-ranging piece, and a great introduction to all the complications Cohen represents: a Zen Buddhist, student of Jewish mysticism, poet, lady’s man, prince of depression, gifted lyricist, and spiritual seeker…
Does artistic dedication begin to touch on religious devotion?” [Cohen] said. “I start with artistic dedication. I know that if the spirit is on you it will touch on to the other human receptors. But I dare not begin from the other side. It’s like pronouncing the holy name—you don’t do it. But if you are lucky, and you are graced, and the audience is in a particular salutary condition, then these deeper responses will be produced.”
In the Guardian, novelist China Miéville ponders the influence of Thomas More’s Utopia five hundred years after its first publication. In an essay ranging from Ursula Le Guin to the colonialist origins of More’s ideal land, Miéville posits that utopias are anything but perfect.
But the fact that the utopian impulse is always stained doesn’t mean it can or should be denied or battened down. It is as inevitable as hate and anger and joy, and as necessary. Utopianism isn’t hope, still less optimism: it is need, and it is desire.
Thanks in part to the popularity of the late Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño, Latin American literature is seeing a surge in translation, according to an article at LitHub by Nathan Scott McNamara. Previously unknowns such as Clarice Lispector and César Aira are now available in English translations, and up-and-coming writers such as Alejandro Zambra and Valeria Luiselli are finally getting deserved attention. As translator Chad Post notes, “a book published in English reaches a global audience, not just an American or British one.”
At Nautilus, Tom Vanderbilt explores the evidence that our brains are wired to be biased, and that we see only what we want to see. With obvious implications for the Facebook echo chamber many of us live in, scientists are confirming that we see either the duck or the rabbit in the famous illustration, but cannot simultaneously see both. Our view, once established, rarely changes:
This hardening can happen without our awareness. In a study published in Pediatrics, more than 1,700 parents in the United States were sent material from one of four sample campaigns designed to reduce “misperceptions” of the dangers of the MMR vaccine. None of the campaigns, they reported, seemed to push the needle on parents’ intentions to vaccinate.
Words Without Borders has a special issue featuring the work of contemporary Thai writers, and one fascinating story is Uthis Haemamool’s “Light Splash Sound,” a slightly surreal tale about a young temple worker with amnesia who begins to see the falsity of everything around him.
He merely saw, imagined, and had questions, like a curious little kid. But now he was grown up, no longer a child, and therefore came across as strange, odd, or simple, words that people use as a matter of course to describe that sort.
So it’s up to you to watch him. Do the remembering for him.
Poet Paisley Rekdal has published a new collection through Copper Canyon Press, Imaginary Vessels, and it’s great: linguistically playful and full of astonishment at the strangeness of life, whether it’s the pressure to have children or the skulls of mental patients unearthed in Colorado. Read her poem Psalm at the American Academy of Poets, a meditation on an apple tree:
The juice of summer coils in the cells. It is a faith
that may not come to more than waiting.
To insist on pleasure alone is a mark
of childishness. To believe only in denial
the fool’s prerogative. You hunger
because you hunger. And the tree calls to this.
Oh, and in the interest of blatant self-promotion, I was happy to see my essay on the Swiss existentialist writer Charles-Ferdiand Ramuz published in Tin House’s “Lost and Found” department. It’s an essay about living as an expat, failing to learn French, and a novelist whose books are a little like Heidi rewritten by Cormac McCarthy.
I no longer live in Switzerland. Back in Seattle, I feel both at home and a stranger. I suspect Ramuz faced a similar dichotomy after he returned to Lausanne from Paris and watched Europe bathe itself in the blood-pools of two wars. And yet his pessimism was tempered by a faith in the power of images to infuse life with a deep, almost crackling, intensity
Abraham Ortelius’ illustration of Thomas More’s Utopia courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.