***Interesting Articles, Part One***
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If you run across an interesting article about a book, an author interview, a tantalizing book list or just anything that you found interesting and that is at least tangentially sort of literary, please link to it here.
I'll start us out with something I've just read. It's a superlatively good article by Jessmyn Ward about racism and poverty in Mississippi and her decision to raise her children there. This isn't a new article, but it was new to me.
Many of these are interviews with authors.
A friend shared this the other day https://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/277273/the-new-york-times-just-published-an-unq...
and then there's this sort-of followup about it. https://forward.com/opinion/416284/alice-walkers-conspiracy-theories-arent-just-...
Really disappointing. I never got around to The color purple yet though of course it's been on my get-to-someday list for ages, but now I won't touch it. Such a shame. :(
>4 .Monkey.: saw that story. Really disappointing both of Walker and the NY Times.
>4 .Monkey.: That is disgusting and reprehensible. I'll get rid of the two books I own by Alice Walker, and I won't ever read anything else by her.
ETA: I missed this, but the NYT featured an article last month in which Walker responded to the controversy, and her support for David Icke:
Alice Walker, Answering Backlash, Praises Anti-Semitic Author as ‘Brave’
I absolutely hated her misportrayal of Black men in the movie based on her novel The Color Purple, so much so that I got into a heated argument about it with my girlfriend outside of the theater we saw it in, and we broke up on the spot. Because of that very negative experience I haven't read anything by her, so I won't miss anything by not reading her work.
>4 .Monkey.: Nylah Burton also added a pretty powerful article to the whole mess: Alice Walker’s Terrible Anti-Semitic Poem Felt Personal — to Her and to Me - which is how I caught wind of this disaster.
I am a bit conflicted. I had not read The Color Purple yet but it had been recommended by a lot of friends. On one hand, I find Walker's latest display unforgivable. On the other hand, I had read books from authors that I despise as human beings - because sometimes it is all about the story and good storytellers can separate themselves from their stories (and I had been taught not to search the authors behind the stories). I almost wish we did not have that much access to the authors... almost. I probably won't read it anytime soon but I am still trying to decide in my head (and heart) if I can separate the author from her work here.
>8 kidzdoc: What's even more bizarre is that Alice Walker's first husband was the Jewish civil rights activist and lawyer Mel Leventhal. They had one daughter together, Rebecca Walker, and in her book Black, White and Jewish Rebecca wrote about the neglect she suffered at the hands of her mother, who spent her time on her writing career and in constantly belittling her daughter. Alice denies these accusations, and the two have been estranged for many years.
I had forgotten about this until I read that article and Alice Walker's Wikipedia page. She's nearly as much of a monster as V.S. Naipaul was, and maybe more so.
>8 kidzdoc: /11 Oh man. I don't think I've actually ever seen the movie, mainly due to when it came out (I was just a few yrs old) combined with being a weighty topic. Of course as an adult I've always meant to watch it, but somehow, as with the book, simply hadn't gotten there yet. More negatives from her just confirms my decision that there's more than enough other wonderful things out there to read/watch, I can happily give hers a miss!
>10 AnnieMod: One of my friends on the only social media site I use (discounting LT, of course, which has social aspects but is first & foremost about the books!) is a major activist, like, she no longer works but that used to be her actual job (and she still does some phone work and such when there's something(/someone) that she feels strongly about), so she really keeps abreast of what's going on and is my main source of info on a lot of news, heh.
I know what you mean, there's times it's really crushing to find out someone who has been such a big deal, or who you really admire, etc, is actually a pretty terrible human being. :| It makes me really sad to have to write off people I'd thought were so great. But, on the other hand, particularly for those still living, I'm really glad to be able to choose not to support them, too. And in this case, there's plenty of other books I can read written by wonderful black authors/humans instead, and kidzdoc's focus on that has given me a great big list to add, too! :D
>11 kidzdoc: Oh no, I know nothing of Naipaul other than the name, what did he do?
>12 .Monkey.: Naipaul was an arrogant, misogynistic asshole, to just sum it up briefly. I still like his writing, but I can't read (or reread) any of his non-fiction anymore.
>10 AnnieMod: It's a weird thing to like a work by a problematic author. I'm more willing to set aside the histories of dead authors, although not for every single one of them, than I am for living writers, especially when the transgression is not regretted or acknowledged. But it's a complex question - why am I willing to give some authors passes and others not at all?
>13 RidgewayGirl: Ah, well, good to know! I think I may have picked up one or possibly two of his novels 2ndhand but not read yet. Don't think I'll be getting any others!
Yeah it's difficult. For some I basically give them a pass, for the time they were writing, even if it's not like they couldn't have known better, but if whatever their issue was was something "everyone" at the time was thinking, well alright, I'll still keep it in mind but won't completely hold it against them for just going with the masses. But if they're like full-out awful, then no, I probably won't give them the time of day, unless possibly they're someone with a huuuge cultural impact, like Lovecraft (who I've still not gotten around to yet but do own and plan to at least start in on sooner than later). But then there's the occasional author who even though I ought to totally dislike them, I simply can't. Like Nabokov. I know he was shitty about women (though he did at least seem to really love his wife and considered her worthy, but I'm pretty sure she's the only woman he thought had any sense at all), but he was so damn brilliant, I just can't manage to hold anything against him. But pretty much anyone modern, any kind of bigotry/-ism found in their work or life is almost surely a write-off.
Interesting discussion. What if it were a gem of a writer who did this? I think it takes an odd self-confidence to be an ambitious fiction writer, and that leads to quirks. But counter-factual conspiracy theories driving a mindset of racial implications and hate - today that kind of stuff is harder for me to manage than maybe it once was.
>15 AnnieMod: Welcome to the era of information
Yes, this is a really difficult one. In many ways it’s the same as the old dilemma about whether it’s OK to enjoy Wagner. And there’s still no easy answer to that one: everyone has to come to their own conclusion about it, ideally whilst still managing to respect the views of those who come to the opposite conclusion...
On the whole, I’ve always tried to stick to the line that the writer’s personal morals and political views are irrelevant to the quality of the work, and that bias I know about can’t hurt me. And that stupid things people said or did when they were very young or very old are not necessarily representative anyway.
But of course, that’s easier said than done. If I know that someone is a racist, homophobic, wife-beating religious fundamentalist who voted for Hitler, Brexit and Donald Trump, then of course I’m not going to be super-motivated to read their books. And even if I’m confident that they won’t convert me to the bigoted views I now know they hold, I have to consider whether I’m in danger of adding legitimacy to those views by buying those books or talking about them (even in a negative way).
>17 thorold: As always, there are subtleties. One is, are/were the author's view typical of her/his time? Racism and sexism in old books is somewhat easier to handle, I find, if I can say that the views were typical of the time. I don't object too strongly to Fanny Mendelssohn's publishing her music under her brother Felix's name because that was how things were at the time. It's much harder to take that Boosey & Hawkes lost interest in Margaret Sutherland's compositions in the 1930s when they found out that "M. Sutherland" was a woman.
Another is, will I contribute to supporting those racist etc views? For a living author, if I buy his or her works I am to some extent encouraging whatever views she or he holds. I suspect I won't be buying Alice Walker's books any time soon. To take a slightly more distant example, I might have been moved to dip into L. Ron Hubbard's science fiction a little, if only out of curiosity, but I am most certainly not going to buy the books (not even used!) because by doing so I would be supporting his lunatic views. (Even though he is dead, his copyrights still exist and are presumably being used to support his religious activities.)
And I don't listen to Wagner, partly because he was a pompous ass and various kinds of unpleasant, but also because I find his music godawful tedious. I've often wondered why the composition that was played outside Cosima Wagner's bedroom on Christmas morning 1870 was called the Siegfried Idyll and not the Cosima Idyll, since it was officially her birthday present.
I spent time the last two days considering the issue of Walker and the Times. My first thought was that they should have included a response to the book, but that might have opened a Pandora's box that could end very poorly. In the end I decided that as appalling as it is, her inclusion of the book is actually a worthwhile thing to have happened. Look how many of us had no idea what her real beliefs were. If anything, she's laid herself open for a very public examination of who she is and what her values are.
I looked around the Times and found a formal response regarding the issue, and it seems they feel somewhat the same (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/18/reader-center/alice-walker-pamela-paul-book-r...). The most relevant part:
Given The Times’s large platform, are there any beliefs that we shouldn’t allow people to espouse?
If people espouse beliefs that anyone at The Times finds to be dangerous or immoral, it’s important for readers to be aware that they hold those beliefs. The public deserves to know. That’s news.
Do we have standards for what, if anything, we wouldn’t include?
By the Book has to be factually accurate and conform to Times style. We check to make sure the interviewee has spelled the name of the author correctly and gotten the title accurately, but we do not investigate the accuracy or assess the quality of the books mentioned.
In retrospect, would you have done anything differently with the column by Ms. Walker?
No. Readers have certainly learned something about the author and her tastes and opinions. I think it’s worthwhile information for them to know.
Our readers are intelligent and discerning. We trust them to sift through something that someone says in an interview, whether it’s the president or a musician or a person accused of sexual harassment, and to judge for themselves: Do I agree with this person??
(I might mention that I loved The Color Purple, book and movie. What a pity Walker has turned out to be so despicable.)
On a much more pleasant note, the Times had a lovely article this week about new board books, tested on the author's own 18-month- and three-year-old kids:
Board Books That Let Toddlers Join the Action
Does a writer's immorality or prejudices necessarily make his or her books immoral? I don't know the answer, but I sense that the human psyche is pretty complicated and able to hold a lot of good and evil at the same time.
Caravaggio was apparently a rapist and murderer, but there is enough tenderness in his paintings, especially the Crucifixion of St. Peter and Supper at Emmaus, to make me weep.
>20 auntmarge64: Thanks, Aunt Marge! I do a "blankies and books" project to promote literacy and book enjoyment among parents and their babies. Great list. I will look for some of these to put with the blankets I knit up this year.
Houses of famous authors - ticks my two passions! Most of them picture perfect.
Here is an opinion article about why we keep our (many, some unread) books.
>23 AlisonY: Can’t help wondering why they thought Newstead Abbey so good that it needs to be in the list twice...
And they missed at least three very obvious ones: Lamb House in Rye (Henry James and E F Benson), Abbotsford (Walter Scott), and Bateman’s (Kipling).
>25 LadyoftheLodge: I think a lot of the backlash against Marie Kondo has to do with misunderstanding the concept of 'sparking joy'.
>25 LadyoftheLodge: I think this could lead to some great discussion questions
For people who claim to be avid readers, this is not a difficult concept to understand.
Reading literature whether it be happy tales or dark tordid affairs is the process that causes you joy, and thus the books provide you joy and thus you should keep those books. Kondo is just saying that you probably don't need that 40 page Tales around the Campfire book if you thought it was campy, or maybe you don't need The Illustrious Book of Knighthood, a book you never read but only kept because your mother-in-law gave it to you as a wedding present.
This is not a difficult concept. At all.
Maybe these people need to pick up the book "How not to overreact to simpleton ideas that are here to help you, not tell you what you HAVE to do". I hope it sparks them joy.
Richard J Evans - whose new biography is about to come out next month - on how Hobsbawm wasn’t really a Stalinist after all.
>29 lilisin: "not tell you what you HAVE to do" This, this, this!
It never ceases to amaze me how often people feel like they have to publically justify not taking advice that actually wasn't specifically offered to them personally.
>31 rhian_of_oz: Over on goodreads, this has gone to extremes, with one person posting a meme which misquoted her and people joining in to offer threats of violence and some really salty gendered slurs. It's ridiculous and I'm left wondering why people are so upset at one woman stating that she, personally, only owns around thirty books. Surely if we want people to be tolerant of our own houses slowly sinking under the weight of all the books we keep, we must allow others to own a few or none or thousands more than us without judgement?
>33 LolaWalser: And when a few people cautiously suggested that this was maybe not in keeping with the spirit of a book site, the OP went into a spiel about how men are browbeaten and under attack. For being forced to encounter mild pushback, apparently. It's so silly.
Insane. I haven't watched the show but based on books it's hard to imagine what could elicit such a response--and what does it have to do with men or women as such anyway? Sounds like what by now is some kind of internet law: "woman's face/opinion on screen"==>"pile on the abuse".
>35 LolaWalser: Very much so. Kondo is very much proof that there is no way to make yourself quiet enough or inoffensive enough to avoid internet harassment if you choose to live in public as a woman.
>37 RidgewayGirl: I'm so sorry to see Mary Oliver go. Her poems more often than not hit a sweet spot for me.
I think Kondo strikes a nerve for a lot of people because housekeeping is such a hypersensitive topic. I'll go out on a limb and say particularly for women, who even in 2019 have that "angel of the house" baggage lurking somewhere in their personal evaluation of how well they are or aren't managing. If you don't have "help" and you work, have kids or pets, are disabled, are a caretaker, or any combination of the above, life is generally a constant battle against not only clutter and dust and dirt but your own expectations of how your space should look AND how much effort you should be putting into making that happen. She totally pokes at that sore spot, even if her advice is well meaning.
It's just bizarre...
From what I understand, she's someone people hire when they feel overwhelmed by their mess and wish to organise their homes. Maybe there's some difference between the books and the show; from the books at least, I didn't get the impression she was telling what to do to all and sundry, but advising specifically people feeling burdened by their accumulated possessions. Some people have a problem with what their apartments/closets/etc. look like and go to her for help. It's not like she's invading people's homes at random and starting fires.
Although it doesn't surprise me that there should be manufactured outrage at a very successful young woman on flimsiest pretexts possible.
What about all those gazillion other professional household advice-givers, women's magazines, "makeover" TV shows and the like, do people find those equally enraging?
What's wrong with Marie Kondo? She was off my radar until I read something about her in the WaPo last week.
As far as I can see, she just gives people tips about how to clear out stuff they don't want anyway and how to organize the stuff they do want so it's not a burden to themselves and others.
I don't get how that could possibly be offensive. People aren't forced to buy into the spark-o-joy thing if they find it off-putting.
>30 thorold: Just Bought How To Change The World: Tales of Marx and Marxism by Eric Hobsbawm for my kindle. (now that I know it is safe to read him)
Oh my goodness. I did not see Marie Kondo asking people to give away their children. If one has the space, keep all the books you want and donate ones if you choose to do so. Each to their own. I donate some of mine to thrift stores where I also buy some. My opinion and like I said, each to their own.
>43 mnleona: Children? Maybe if she had some advice on effort/reward with pets. (But if I did that math, we wouldn't have any pets)
I haven’t read any of these ten novels about music selected by Rebecca Kauffman: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jan/23/top-10-musical-novels?CMP=Share_iO...
If I did such a list, it would definitely include Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus, Thomas Bernhard’s The loser and Vikram Seth’s An equal music. Maybe Tous les matins du monde as well.
Tagmash for music and fiction: https://www.librarything.com/tag/fiction,+music
...and an obituary for writer and editor Diana Athill, who was still “living by her pen” aged 100: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jan/24/diana-athill-obituary?CMP=Share_iO...
>45 thorold: I am not a music lover by any means. But I enjoyed Song of the Lark, Station Eleven, Swingtime, and Amsterdam.
Disliked Bel Canto. I lost interest in The Animators and set it aside. Maybe I should try again.
In the Feb 11-18 issue of The Nation
Fiction Can Help Us Deal With Trump’s Chaos:
Making sense of the presidency, one novel at a time. By Laila Lalami
>50 avaland: WaPo has article about the need for science fact and science fiction: "Science fiction is the literature of problem-solving." Ignore the provocative "Kamala Harris is wrong" hook.
When Social Media Goes After Your Book, What’s the Right Response? (NY Times)
This was pretty scary. Not that some writers don't deserve it, but several of these stories are just plain social media gone mad.
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