My most recent reread of The Great Gatsby uncovered even more of its layers and riches, which is, as Maureen Corrigan maintains in So We Read On, as it should be. For the last week, I have tried to work some version of the following wry observation into all manner of conversations: “This was untrue. I am not even faintly like a rose.”
Since my post earlier this month, I’ve also reread four Shakespeare plays:
■ Edward III
■ The Two Gentlemen of Verona
■ The Taming of the Shrew
■ Richard II
In 2017, I participated in an online reading group that tackled all of his work over the course of a year, and I thought I might rejoin them this year, only to realize I’d be much happier rereading and studying the plays independently. Next up is Titus Andronicus.
Other books I’ve read this month:
■ This Is Your Time (Ruby Nell Bridges; 2020. Non-fiction.)
Heard about this on NPR in November and wanted to check it out. It took a while for the library to bring it in.
■ Paul Robeson (Phillip Hayes Dean; 1978. Drama)
Robeson was mentioned in the documentary Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart (watched to prepare for a seminar about Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs.)
■ Do the Work (Steven Pressfield; 2011. Non-fiction.)
■ The War of Art (Steven Pressfield; 2002. Non-fiction.)
■ The Scientific Method of Practicing (Timothy Hagen; 2020. Non-fiction.)
Motivational reading as I prepared my practice goals for this year. Author Melissa Wiley recommended the Pressfield books.
■ The Tyranny of Merit (Michael J. Sandel; 2014. Non-fiction.)
The relentless credentialism of our day has driven working-class voters toward populist and nationalist parties and deepened the divide between those with and those without a university degree. It is also lead to increasingly partisan views of higher education, the institution most emblematic of the meritocratic project.
More to the point, higher education in the age of meritocracy has not been an engine of social mobility; to the contrary, it has reinforced the advantages that privileged parents confer on their children.
Though far more inclusive in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity, this meritocratic elite has not produced a fluid, mobile society. Instead, today’s credentialed, professional classes have figured out how to pass their privileges on to their children, not by bequeathing them large estates but by equipping them with the advantages that determine success in a meritocratic society.
■ One of the Good Ones (Maika and Maritza Moulite; 2021. Fiction.)
Heard about this on NPR, too.
■ The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1: The Apocalypse Suite (Gerard Way; 2008. Fiction.)
My younger daughter is enjoying the Netflix series and suggested I give it a try. I can see its merits, but it didn’t “stick.”
■ What Is Populism? (Jan-Werner Müller; 2014. Non-fiction)
Populist governance exhibits three features: attempts to hijack the state apparatus, corruption and “mass clientelism” (trading material benefits or bureaucratic favors for political support by citizens who become the populists’ “clients”), and efforts systematically to suppress civil society.
Populism, I suggest, is a particular moralistic imagination of politics, a way of perceiving the political world that sets a morally pure and fully unified — but, I shall argue, ultimately fictional — people against elites who are deemed corrupt or in some way morally inferior.
Conspiracy theories are thus not a curious addition to populist rhetoric; they are rooted in and emerge from the very logic of populism itself.
■ Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (Jung Chang; 1991. Non-fiction.)
One of the virtual book groups I visit is reading this. I don’t know how I missed this gripping, often harrowing memoir.
I found this environment unbearable. I could understand ignorance, but I could not except its glorification, still less its right to rule.
■ Front Row at the Trump Show (Jonathan Karl; 2020. Non-fiction.)
For Donald Trump, the taunts and personal insults are part of the game. He sees the public jousting with the press as a critical component of the Trump Show’s success. But this is a dangerous game. The president’s rhetoric, especially rhetoric that incites hatred or willfully distorts the truth, has consequences. (Boldface added.)
I think they call that prescient.
■ The War on Normal People (Andrew Yang; 2019. Non-fiction.)
In the bubble, many of us came up through the meritocracy and we’ve internalized its lessons. The underlying logic of the meritocratic system is this: If you’re successful, it’s because you’re smart and hard-working, and thus virtuous. If you’re poor or unsuccessful, it’s because you’re lazy and/or stupid and of subpar character. The people at the top belong there and the people at the bottom have only themselves to blame.
Scarcity research indicates that the best way to improve decision-making is to free up people’s bandwidth. People won’t ever make perfect choices. But knowing that their basic needs are accounted for will lead to better choices for millions of people each day.