Imagine

We think of ourselves as civilization accomplished, but I’ve come to believe that we’re not even close to civilized yet—rather, we’re just barely out of our infancy as a species. Civilization means “an advanced stage of social development and organization,” and while the present is nearly always more advanced than the past, “more advanced” is…

On “Trying to Understand” 

It was a common topic over the last year and a half, as liberals devoted particular attention to learning about, becoming less judgmental of, and humanizing the Trump voter. It’s been bothering me, though it took me a while to recognize and articulate the problem, and then to wade through my own anxiety-induced mental fog…

Will Everyone Complaining About “Identity Politics” Please Shut Up

I don’t understand how white intellectuals are so dense on the subject of “identity politics.” Sam Harris was the first to frustrate me (he’s done it again recently), and a little while ago I read this whole piece at Brain Pickings on the tragedy of “imprisoning ourselves in the fractal infinity of our ever-subdividing identities,…

We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Five stars, read in November 2017. This book covers the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency. For each year, there is an article Coates wrote for The Atlantic, preceded by an essay (“a sort of extended blog post,” I think is how he describes it) in which he looks back on his own work and assesses…

And Marian Was Wounded Sore

Written in January 2014. A few years ago I was watching Robin Hood with my family, the 2010 version with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. During that scene at the end where Marian joins the battle on the beach, I heard my dad—ever the selective movie critic—say something about how of course, they never would…

“To be able to perform music for yourself is a wonderful thing.”

Written Saturday, April 16, 2011, while staying with my family. This morning I’m reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami and listening to my brother downstairs playing the piano. I’ve always been jealous of his skill. I taught myself to play the piano as a kid, and had only a month or two of lessons in high school….

Part Three: Scream Into the Roaring Waves

And for all the things I can’t get enough of, there is too much of what should not be at all. There is too much wrong for one world. The more I read, the more injustice I discover, and it seems like I can’t pick up a book anymore without uncovering a whole new field…

Part Two: Too Much/Not Enough

There is too much world for one person. There is too much to experience, and I’m interested in so much of it. I have tried to learn so many languages, and I still want to learn so many more. I play piano and bass clarinet, but haven’t played either in years. I’ve attempted to learn the…

Part One: I Can Never Catch Up

I think if I could have an entire year in which, except for the passage of the year itself, time didn’t move—ignore the paradox, just let your imagination make it work—maybe then I could catch up on everything. I’m annoyed that it’s January 15 and I haven’t finished my end-of-2017 posts. I did finally manage…

A World That Is Disappointing Us Every Single Day

A little while ago I read a great interview with Bob Odenkirk. When asked if he thought of himself as a cynical person, this is what he said: Most people who are described as cynical are truly not. They’re idealists, and the cynical points of view that they espouse are literally their idealistic mentalities reacting…

The Age of American Unreason, by Susan Jacoby

Four stars, read in July 2017. The most consistent theme of my experience reading this book was oh my god, if she said this ten years ago, what would she say now? I have minor differences with Jacoby, but her premise is clearly, demonstrably correct: in whatever our current age is called, almost nothing in…

What Happened, by Hillary Rodham Clinton 

Four stars, or maybe 3.5, read in September 2017. I haven’t actually spoken to many people about Hillary Clinton, because I try not to for my own sanity. But when I have, and when I’ve read articles and books about her, they have almost never—the “almost” might not even be necessary—been entirely reasonable. Hillary has said…

An Autobiography, by Angela Davis

Five stars, read in April 2017. Yes, once again a post has taken me this long to write. For years I have been meaning to find out more about Angela Davis, and as so often happens, now that I’ve finally met her books I cannot believe it took me so long—or that in all my reading, she’s…

My Goodbye Post to Facebook

I’m reading a lot to try and figure out why the world is the way it is. I can’t say it makes me feel much better, but it does help—if you can’t fix what’s wrong, at least being able to name it allows you to stay sane. The last book I finished was The Age…

Bubble Girl

There are second-graders touring the library today, and my first thought is how cute they are; they’re just a few months older than my niece, and it makes me happy to see kids her age. There’s a little girl scratching another girl’s back, almost maternally, which kills me. One little blonde girl is holding her…

Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde

Four stars, read in March and April 2017. I have meant to read Audre Lorde for so long, and now that I have, I see the irony of it having been her prose that I read first, and not her poetry. Poetry was everything to Lorde, not just a form of art but a framework…

A Dose of Dope and a Great Big Bill

I’m having such a hard time concentrating at work right now. Could be part of an upcoming migraine (hopefully not) but I don’t know how to fix it. Maybe it’s because I have so many aborted thoughts lately—comments I start to make on Facebook, or elsewhere, then delete without posting because it seems pointless to…

Women, Race and Class, by Angela Davis

Five stars, read in March 2017. Yes, it took me that long to write this post. Note: I got my copy of this book through interlibrary loan and used it long enough to transcribe all the quotes I wanted to share, but I no longer have access to the book. All the actual text should…

Another Kind of Animal

It bothers me to hear the word “survivor” used as a compliment. I don’t understand why we talk about strength so much, in different variations. If you’re “a survivor,” it means things are trying to hurt you, but you’re able to withstand them. That is excellent, for obvious reasons. But I don’t understand why we…

The conservative viewpoint is that of an abuser. 

People who oppose government regulation know that without it, the powerful will abuse everyone they can. It’s not that they’re naive about people’s cruelty; it’s that they’re also the kind of people who will abuse anyone they can, and they think that’s how the world should be. We’ve allowed abusers to co-opt the concept of freedom, to…

Dietland, by Sarai Walker

Three and a half stars, read in March 2017. This book was a strange mix of things. I loved the premise and the protagonist’s character development, but was a little confused and unsatisfied by the progression and conclusion of the Jennifer storyline. In the first place, it seemed weird to me that the protagonist was…

The Solution

I just had what feels like the most incredible idea ever. Fix all the problems in the world: take the entire population of the planet, mix everyone up, and redistribute equally across the globe. Old systems of oppression—gone. Old prejudices—gone. How fast would things get fixed if we could strip white people of the ability…

Matilda, Mara Wilson, and Me

I started out writing this as a review for my book blog, but it turned into (1) a pretty personal post that is also (2) not at all a review. I know I have severe anxiety, but I hadn’t realized how many specific things I would have in common with Wilson. Not being in a great…