Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Reading in a post-fact age

Along with the other disturbing attributes associated with Donald Trump--ignorance, corruption, boorish behavior,and general incompetence--there is his lack of interiority, a point made by Christine Smallwood in an article on the future of serious reading, in a time when the U.S. President does not read, reflect,listen well or care about truth.  He is lazy.

The essay is in the current HARPER's magazine, and asks the key question, "Does reading matter in a post-fact age, when smartphones and social media also distract us from interiority?"

Smallwood quotes near the end a statement of major importance by novelist Don DeLillo:  "If serious reading dwindles to near nothingness, it will probably mean what we're talking about when we use the word "identity' has reached an end.  Privacy,  personhood, reading, and thinking are all wrapped up together."

I am applying this insight to my much-delayed reading of a classic English novel from 1953, THE GO-BETWEEN by L. P. Hartley, a beautifully evocative memory piece about an adolescent boy's innocence shattered during a summer in 1980.  In such fiction, we can come closer to another consciousness, and to our own, than in most other ways.

The novel was made into a film in 1973--hard to find but which I located from Korea via Amazon. It stars Alan Bates and Julie Christie, with an imperfect but intelligent screenplay by Harold Pinter, who doesn't make the central (older) narrator clear.  But seeing it lead me quickly back to reading the much more satisfying novel, which I highly recommend--and not merely as an escape from difficult times.   It sums up the essence of DeLillo's excellent point.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The best of times?

It is easy to be a pessimist when we look at this country and the world as we begin a new year: fear of nuclear war, a decline in environmental safeguards, a president who's unstable, incompetent, and worse.

But, as Nicholas Kristof reminds us in today's NYTimes, the year that just ended may have been the best year in the history of humanity.  What??

He takes the big picture and, using the new book by Steven Pinker, cites facts, e.g., a smaller share of the world's people were hungry or illiterate than at any time before. A smaller proportion of children died than ever before.  There are more detailed facts about how the number of people living in extreme poverty goes down by 217,000 a day, according to an Oxford economist.

The point is that we need to take a step back from the madness in Washington and the daily news, which focuses on the world's problems, and examine how the quality of life, by and large, seems to be improving, irrespective of politics, nationalism, wars, and refugees in crisis.

So maybe the world is not going to hell after all in 2018--not a bad way to begin the year.