Reading for grownups
I don’t have anything smart to say right now, so I’ll lead you to some others who do:
Robin Sloan’s new newsletter Year of the Meteor is enlightening and thoughtful and optimistic, as always. His primary focus seems to be appreciating things, which I, in turn, appreciate:
For the past few years, I have felt my political opinions really getting whipped around. As new calamities have unfolded, I’ve often felt like one of those four-year-olds on a soccer field, just sort of chasing the ball around in a giant scrum. As a remedy—at least partial—I’ve been on the hunt for lodestars: super-stable points that can inform new opinions (and, eventually, votes) in a principled, non-four-year-olds-playing-soccer-like way.
I’ve found a few of these lodestars, and one I’ll share is this: The modern public library is the best thing people ever made. What’s good for public libraries is good for everybody and everything.
That doesn’t mean I love them any less. The mood and feeling of a pop record is as real as we need it to be when we’re playing it. But it does mean that I hunt for something slightly different in the records I scan as adult now, and treasure it when I find it – relaxed tolerance, unguarded goofiness, the moments (rare though they honest are) of being genuinely unafraid of what others think. Dad rock no, Dad jokes yes.
Related somewhat, and relevant to my continued devotion to soap operas, which suffer from the same biases and speak to the same general impulses and audience, this piece on why you should be reading romance novels, from Jaime Green at The Cut:
People love to demean romance as “smut,” as if the only thing worse than women writing stories about women is women writing stories about women having sex. But if you’re just looking for titillation you are going to be very disappointed with all the pages spent on things like plot and character development. Some romances end with a chaste kiss. Some demurely fade to black when a couple makes their way to the bedroom. Some are euphemistic. Some are explicit. And some are fun and hot! Because here’s one thing that hasn’t really changed since we were 14: Reading about sex is fun. Or it can be, when the sex itself is fun. Literary fiction has plenty of sex, but it’s rarely about the characters’ pleasure. Literary sex tends to be sad or gross, often enough presaging a character’s tragedy, as if she’s a promiscuous teen in a horror movie. In romance, people get to have sex, and it’s good.
Phil Gyford’s thoughts on my favorite book, Light Years, by James Salter, which I’ve always maintained is a tough nut to crack but is so very worth it if you have the patience to lose yourself in it. He captures something key about Salter’s writing, which is his ability to convey timelessness in small strokes:
Even while Salter’s describing the mundane events of a character’s day you’re aware that these actions are also part of the character’s entire life, and part of something other people are doing and always will. Maybe this makes characters feel smaller, like they have less control than they think or want. People like this, despite how important their concerns feel to them, are a tiny part of history, swept along helplessly.
That’s it. It’s snowing and I have to get my hair cut. Cheerio, old chaps!