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Sunday, September 16, 2018

On Outgrowing David Foster Wallace, by Julius Taranto, Los Angeles Reveiw of Books

It is notthe fashion in literary assessment to admit that we might have thought differently about a book if we’d read it at another time — older or younger, maybe next week instead of last week. Even without buying any fallacy about the objectivity of taste, it is hard to shake the deep intuition that at least our own, personal tastes, like our personalities, are fixed or have more than nominal continuity. To love Mrs. Dalloway is to always love Mrs. Dalloway, et cetera. Everyone knows this postulate is false, of course. But as far as I know, James Wood has never done a drive-by on some new novel while offering the caveat that he was fighting with his spouse the week he read it, so maybe he’ll circle back in a few years and a more charitable mood.

Anyway, David Foster Wallace died about 10 years ago, and — has anyone else had this experience? — his work reads differently to me now than it did then. I’m a little ashamed of how much I once loved it. It is still funny, still terrifyingly smart, precise, moving, still has astonishing range, but it also seems sort of juvenile and aggressive in a way I didn’t sense before. It feels infected by postmortem evidence of his real-life moral failings, including his pretty shameful treatment of women. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve changed, and my tastes have too. I would not have forecast any of that back in 2008. But I suppose no one who’s in love expects to fall out of it, at least not at age 19.

Hard Words, by Emily Hanford, APM Reports

One of the excuses educators have long offered to explain America's poor reading performance is poverty. There is plenty of poverty in Bethlehem, a small city in eastern Pennsylvania that was once a booming steel town. But there are fancy homes here, too, and when Silva examined the reading scores he saw that many kids at the wealthier schools weren't reading very well either. This was not just poverty. In fact, by some estimates, one-third of America's struggling readers are from college-educated families.

Silva didn't know anything about how children learn to read or how they should be taught, so he started searching online. As he soon discovered, virtually all kids can learn to read — if they are taught the right way. The problem is that many American elementary schools aren't doing that.

Jill Lepore On The History Of America (In 1,000 Pages Or Less), by Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times

If “These Truths” ends on a note of “Gibbonesque foreboding,” as she put it, she hopes it will take us out of the frenzy of the present and provide perspective, if not necessarily comfort.

“Yes, the internet is disruptive of democracy, but this has happened before,” she said. “You shouldn’t stop worrying. But here’s a way to be a more informed worrier.”

The Homebody Economy, Explained, by Kaitlyn Tiffany, Vox

“Starting a new lifestyle blog called Diet Coke and Klonopin where I will share secrets on how to minimize your time spent out of bed,” the 26-year-old Brooklyn-based marketing professional tweeted in August.

Some tips she shared in advance of the proposed blog launch included stowing all morning and evening skin care products in a nightstand basket, setting up a coffee-making station within reach, and avoiding the shower. “Showering requires being upright, as well as being SPRAYED with WATER!” she points out. “You can lay down in the bath, throw some bubbles in, almost as good as bed.”

Later, over the phone, Benton says she was joking about starting the blog but serious about everything else. “Staying in bed is something I feel very strongly about,” she says.

Scotland’s Clock That’s (Almost) Never On Time, by Mike MacEacheran, BBC

This bold irregularity is, in fact, a historical quirk first introduced in 1902 when the Edwardian-era building opened as the North British Station Hotel. Then, as now, it overlooked the platforms and signal boxes of Waverley Train Station, and just as porters in red jackets met guests off the train, whisking them from the station booking hall to the interconnected reception desk in the hotel’s basement, the North British Railway Company owners wanted to make sure their passengers – and Edinburgh’s hurrying public – wouldn’t miss their trains.

Given an extra three minutes, they reasoned, these travellers would have more time on the clock to collect their tickets, to reach their corridor carriages and to unload their luggage before the stationmaster’s whistle blew. Still today, it is a calculated miscalculation that helps keep the city on time.

Piano Lessons In The Panopticon, by Elias Muhanna, New York Times

The technological aspects of our encounter suddenly seemed irrelevant. Inspiration and imitation were the true teachers, as they’d always been.

Apocalypse? Naw. 'Woman World' Is A Laid-Back Utopia, by Etelka Lehoczky, NPR

Dhaliwal takes the occasional direct jab at our male-dominated world (she ridicules high heels and envisions positive approaches to menstrual cramps), but is content, mostly, to let her characters' gentle, comfortable lives speak for themselves.