“Let not man glory in this that he loveth his country, let him rather glory in this that he loveth his kind.”[i]
A little over ninety years ago, in the fall of 1929, the U.S stock market crashed. The world at the time was far less interconnected than it is now, but ties of mutual dependence were already so tight that, like a string of pearls sliding down a drain, once one country went over the edge, the rest were doomed to follow. Over the next ten years, the nations of the world tried every remedy they could think of—raising tariffs on imported goods, creating welfare states, nationalizing industries, putting fascist dictators into power. None of it helped. The Great Depression lingered on. Why? Because the Great Depression was a global crisis—perhaps the first in human history—and the solutions put forward were, one and all, national solutions.
What do the humanities do in a crisis? Are they—and the humanists that practice them—useless in the face of great human suffering, or do they still have something to offer humanity?
Some of you may have noticed a new link on the main menu at the top of the page. “The Store” will take you to my new store on Bookshop.org. For me, it’s mostly a place to share lists of books that I like, but you can also buy those books there if you want. If you, I’ll receive a small commission on the sale, and another part of your purchase will go to a fund that supports local, independent bookstores. Bookshop.org is a new online bookseller that is working to help independent bookstores profit from the online book trade. You can search for your favorite indie bookshop and buy from them online, but even if you’re not buying from a specific bookstore, a portion of your purchase will be placed in a fund hat is divided among all participating independent bookstores. You can read about how it works here. I hope you enjoy browsing my store. I’ll be adding more books as I go along and adding links to my reading journal blog entries as well.
Shortly before I learned of Anthony Bourdain’s death, I watched the “Trinidad” episode of Parts Unknown. It’s a great episode all-around, but it was his interview with Calypso Rose, first Queen of Calypso, that really moved me. Later, when I heard about his suicide, that interview haunted me.
I’m a bit late getting this list posted this year. Chinese New Year found my family and I struggling to decide whether to remain in Chengdu as the coronavirus epidemic worsened. Ultimately, we chose to leave. The Lantern Festival (Yuanxiao jie 元宵节)–last night of the New Year celebrations and the usual time I write this post–found us in Japan, watching from over the waters as China took dramatic action to control the epidemic. When it became clear that situation was not going to improve quickly, we continued our journey, back to the U.S. and my family, with whom we are now living.
Today is the lantern festival (yuanxiao jie 元宵节), the traditional end for the Chinese New Year season. It’s also time to post my second annual reading journal. This year’s list is even longer than the last. In part, that’s because I included academic titles this time around. My academic and creative lives have grown closer to one another over the last year, so it no longer made sense to separate them.
I’m taking a writing class with Gotham Writers’ Workshop right now, and one of the assignments was to create an imaginary bio for yourself. It was no holds barred, so I could have imagined myself as a legendary world traveller, universally admired academic, or much loved novelist and poet–all of which makes what I did end up writing somewhat puzzling:
I get my news about the U.S. rather slowly. For example, I only just learned of the snowstorm in the Northeast. Much as I would like to gloat and taunt my NYC-dwelling friends about the fact that it never snows here in Chengdu, the reality of the situation is this: I am drinking my coffee hot, the down comforters are on the beds, I am currently wearing two wool sweaters, and although I have not yet put on any thermal underwear, that moment is approaching rapidly. All of this can mean but one thing–winter has arrived–and there is no emoji capable of accurately depicting my feelings on the subject. Continue reading
I tried something new today. I listened to music while walking around. I know. It’s hard to believe I’ve never done this before, but when I’m out and about, I usually like to have all of my senses engaged: the full experience. I often listen to music while riding the subway, but I take out the earbuds when I get off the train. Today, however, I left them in. Continue reading
I suppose this is my personal homage to Langston Hughes’s great poem, “Let America be America Again,” about which I’ve written here before. Perhaps it’s also my personal update to that poem, my own “creative misprision”–to borrow Harold Bloom’s term–through which I’m trying to say where I think we are and where I hope we’re going. Continue reading