“Being squeezed involves one’s finances, one’s social status, and one’s self-image.”


Janesville (Amy Goldstein), Nomadland (Jessica Bruder), and Squeezed (Alissa Quart) have formed a fascinating — and sobering — trilogy.

p. 114
Among other things, being middle-class is a matter of having access to certain goods and services. It’s not just the house or the car you can buy. This status is also more granular, reflecting refined varieties of knowledge and information: the middle class knows where to send their children to school, where to get medical treatment, child care, career advice or training, or other kinds of help. Perhaps most importantly, class status is about how you even find out about these things to begin with, which again brings us to “cultural capital.”

When I recall “cultural capital,” I think of my favorite theorist from when I was a graduate student, Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu theorized that capital extends beyond economics, encompassing credentials, skills, and tastes. Financial capital is convertible — if you have the latter, you can gain cultural capital through education. Then, if you have the former, you can convert that back into even more economic capital through the right social networks.

Related articles here, here, here, and here.

Rereading Moby Dick

Chapter 41: Moby-Dick
Here, then, was this grey-headed, ungodly old man, chasing with curses a Job’s whale round the world, at the head of a crew, too, chiefly made up of mongrel renegades, and castaways, and cannibals — morally enfeebled also, by the incompetence of mere unaided virtue or right-mindedness in Starbuck, the invulnerable jollity of indifference and recklessness in Stubb, and the pervading mediocrity in Flask. Such a crew, so officered, seemed specially picked and packed by some infernal fatality to help him to his monomaniac revenge. How it was that they so aboundingly responded to the old man’s ire — by what evil magic their souls were possessed, that at times his hate seemed almost theirs; the White Whale as much their insufferable foe as his; how all this came to be — what the White Whale was to them, or how to their unconscious understandings, also, in some dim, unsuspected way, he might have seemed the gliding great demon of the seas of life, — all this to explain, would be to dive deeper than Ishmael can go. The subterranean miner that works in us all, how can one tell whither leads his shaft by the ever shifting, muffled sound of his pick?

“Thus ended this voyage beneath the seas.”


Read in anticipation of seeing the Lookingglass Theatre production.

p. 90
“Captain Nemo,” I said to my host who had just stretched out on a divan, “this library would do honor to more than one palace on land, and I am really astounded to think that it travels with you into the ocean depths.”

“Where could one find greater solitude or silence, Professor?” replied Captain Nemo. “Can you boast of greater tranquility in your office at the museum?”

“No, Monsieur, and I must admit that it is very shabby alongside yours. Why, you have six or seven thousand books…”

“Twelve thousand, Monsieur Aronnax. These are my only ties with life on dry land….”

p. 187
“A cannibal can still be an honorable man,” replied Conseil, “just as a glutton can be honest. One doesn’t exclude the other.”

“That’s all very well, Conseil. I’ll even grant you that these cannibals are honorable and that they go about devouring their prisoners honorably. But since I don’t like the idea of being devoured, even honorably, I’ll stay on guard, for the commander of the Nautilus seems to be taking no precautions whatsoever. Now to work.”

Connoisseurs of summer light

The light has changed a great deal in the two months since this photo was taken.

From one of my favorite Mary Schmich columns (Chicago Tribune, August 1, 2008):

If you merely count the days from summer’s official start in June until its finale in September, August 1 doesn’t even mark the summer midpoint. But it does mark the high point, which means the beginning of the end.

The light shifts, softens. The shadows on the leaves and the living room floor make you wonder: When exactly did the wane start?

People in other places may not wonder, but Chicagoans are connoisseurs of summer light. We spot the changes as surely as a foodie detects the difference between fennel and star-anise.

Yes, the light has shifted and softened, but the unofficial conclusion of my summer has been heralded by more than that: My older daughter will conclude her work at the therapeutic riding facility this week, then submit the last of the paperwork required to begin her new job in a nearby school district. My younger daughter will give a talk on her research at [insert name of national laboratory here] later this week, then move back home — only to begin packing for her return to university.

The Girls Rule! School will enjoy a short and joyous reunion in the interval between her arrival home and her sister’s first day on the new job, but the season is most certainly waning: My flute teacher held her summer recital this weekend, and the beach closes for the season next weekend. Leaves are dropping from the beleaguered but rallying oak out back, and acorns are abundant on the others. Subscription tickets have been mailed, and many single tickets are now on sale. On the to-do list, “Bring winter coats to cleaner before Labor Day” is underscored. Twice.

With back-to-school (which has always seemed more a new year than January 1) only weeks away, then, it feels right to assess my progress on this year’s reading goals.

Since my mid-year review, I’ve read another fifteen books — five novels, one play, seven works of graphic fiction, and two non-fiction titles — for a total of eighty-three books read, to date. Books XI and XII and Lectures 9 through 12 remain in my quest to read The Aeneid and finish Elizabeth Vandiver’s The Aeneid of Virgil. About two and half hours remain in my audiobook of Hope Never Dies (Andrew Shaffer; 2018), and about one hundred pages remain in Jessica Bruder’s Nomadland (2017). Despite having a number of books in various states of unread, I’ve gamely begun Squeezed (Alissa Quart; 2018 — review here) because I must return it to the library later this month — right around the time I help move my youngest back to university and resume my academic-year position.

One of my reading resolutions for this year is to finish at least thirty non-fiction titles. In May, I misstated this as thirty-six, but when I revisited the original post this morning, I was delighted to realize that I am within ten books of the goal. Admittedly, I have made less progress on Resolutions 1 (Read from the shelves) and 4 (Finish reading several books abandoned in 2017 (or *gulp* earlier)), but I remain upbeat about rereading at least one Vonnegut novel (Resolution 3; probably Sirens of Titan and likely for Banned Books Week) and completing a close reading of Moby Dick (Resolution 2).

By next Sunday, I hope to post my (tentative) autumn reading plans.