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Monday, February 11, 2019

Reading Winter, by Ariel Katz, Ploughshares

Winter, with its brutal cold and barren landscapes, often intensifies our experience of emotions and our awareness of needs. As a result, writing about it can feel needlessly blustery and sentimental. The overt symbolism of winter landscapes can become an easy stand-in for common fears or struggles. Poems by Margaret Atwood, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Robert Frost, however, represent the cold with specific, emotionally evocative language that for the most part avoids these pitfalls. The claustrophobia of winter inflects the mood of these poems without overpowering them.

Tools For Thinking: Isaiah Berlin’s Two Concepts Of Freedom, by Maria Kasmirli, Aeon

‘Freedom’ is a powerful word. We all respond positively to it, and under its banner revolutions have been started, wars have been fought, and political campaigns are continually being waged. But what exactly do we mean by ‘freedom’? The fact that politicians of all parties claim to believe in freedom suggests that people don’t always have the same thing in mind when they talk about it. Might there be different kinds of freedom and, if so, could the different kinds conflict with each other? Could the promotion of one kind of freedom limit another kind? Could people even be coerced in the name of freedom?

Atlantic City Is Really Going Down This Time, by Rebecca McCarthy, Longreads

“The problem with barrier islands is that, sort of by definition, they move,” said Dan Heneghan. Heneghan covered the casino beat for the Press of Atlantic City for 20 years before moving to the Casino Control Commission in 1996. He retired this past May. He’s a big, friendly guy with a mustache like a push broom and a habit of lowering his voice and pausing near the end of his sentences, as if he’s telling you a ghost story. (“Atlantic City was, in mob parlance … a wide open city. No one family … controlled it.”) We were standing at the base of the lighthouse, which he clearly adores. He’s climbed it 71 times this year. “I don’t volunteer here, I just climb the steps,” he said. “It’s a lot more interesting than spending time on a Stairmaster.” The lighthouse was designed by George Meade, a Civil War general most famous for defeating Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg. It opened in 1857 but within 20 years the beach had eroded to such an extent that the water was only 75 feet away from the base. Jetties were added until the beach was built back out, but a large iron anchor sits at the old waterline, either as a reminder or a threat.

In Search Of The Northern Lights, by Ingrid K. Williams, New York Times

In an era when the digital world has winnowed our attention spans, the aurora borealis still demands presence and patience, a long journey to far northern latitudes, and the fortitude to weather arctic conditions. Despite these challenges, color-saturated images of the otherworldly aurora in social and traditional media continue to inspire travelers in growing numbers. And while over-the-top experiences abound — you can charter a bush plane to a remote mountain lodge in Canada, rent a helicopter to fly above the clouds in Iceland, or camp on a glacier in Greenland — the greatest consequence of this tourism boom is the expanding range of aurora-chasing experiences for every type of traveler.

Tl;dr: On “Reading And The Making Of Time In The Eighteenth Century”, by Gill Partington, Los Angeles Review of Books

If reading novels against the clock feels strange, it’s perhaps because — as Christina Lupton puts it in her new book — reading about life isn’t normally in competition with living it. We read in the “interstices of time,” not only around and between other things, but also in time that slips through the gaps. Reading doesn’t quite map onto the everyday. It’s incommensurate but parallel: books unspool their own chronology of plot, intersecting our own lives, but in complicated ways. They fit into our days but they also stretch out alongside, cutting across everyday time, work time, social time, and lifetimes. Lupton’s title — Reading and the Making of Time in the Eighteenth Century — pulls two ways, therefore. We make time for books, but they in turn make time for us, generating rhythms that punctuate lives. The focus is on the 18th century, weaving together literary, archival, and biographical sources, but, like Lupton herself, this study has a foot in the contemporary, moving back and forth as it traces reading’s role in the shaping of time.

An Encyclopedic Novel Intent On Reliving The Baby Boomers’ Touchstone Moments. All Of Them., by John Williams, New York Times

This novel, like Bowman’s other work but even more strenuously, tries to capture what Philip Roth famously called the “indigenous American berserk.” (It’s hardly Bowman’s fault that the book is appearing at a time when berserk sounds relatively placid.) The title “Big Bang,” in addition to referencing the Baby Boom (“this decade’s relentless fecundity”), might also nod to the Kennedy assassination, and to the midcentury release of cultural energies that created what we now know as the postmodern American cosmos.

Late In The Day By Tessa Hadley – Review, by Johanna Thomas-Corr, The Guardian

There’s a lovely stillness to Hadley’s writing, like an old house with many rooms. You might read this novel as a Hampstead version of The Cherry Orchard: an elegy for a more intimate, less frenzied London, where people had time to pay attention to their feelings. As Lydia reflects: “Our bourgeois sensibility. All our sadness and our subtlety, our complicated arrangements. Our privilege of subtlety and irony is at an end. What’s in that Polish poem Alex quotes? Something about how the barbarians don’t object to irony. They just grind it up and use it as their salt.”

'Tonic And Balm' Builds A World In A Bottle, by Martha Anne Toll, NPR

The year is 1919. Doc Bell's Miracle and Mirth Medicine Show — part circus, part sideshow, all charlatanism — travels rural America, trying to gin up enough audience to support the enterprise. The characters in Tonic and Balm, Stephanie Allen's debut novel, are the performers, roustabouts, fixers, and seamstresses who inhabit Doc Bell's self-contained world.

The Colour Of Stones, by Syl Cheney-Coker, The Guardian

When you arrive in this misnamed country,
come to the crooked hills; the fierce, verdant eyes
of Sierra Leone, mythic songs, its crazy history!