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Friday, October 11, 2019

“Goodnight Moon,” Almost 75 Years Later, by Brian Goedde, Los Angeles Review of Books

It’s as if Brown anticipated the concept of “separation-individuation,” first developed by child psychiatrist Margaret Mahler in the 1960s. Separation-individuation is the process of understanding the self as apart from the mother (or more broadly, the caregiver). At this stage of the little bunny’s development, the whole great green room, with everything in it, is the bunny’s consciousness. On the book’s final pages, with eyes now closed, the bunny-narrator’s goodnights to “noises” and “air” are the closest we get to “goodnight me.” The bunny’s consciousness expands and contracts to the senses available, until, ultimately, consciousness gives way to slumber, and the book ends.

I realize my thoughts on all this could be borne from a mushy, sleep-deprived daddy-brain, but I have also read this book after a good night’s rest, looked into Brown’s life and times, and concluded something else. This book, which is fast approaching its 75th birthday, has become the classic bedtime story not only for the insights Brown has invited us to have into the child’s experience, but also, given its deep and lasting resonance, for its insights into the caretaker, the other character in the room who is identified — in Brown’s words, as “a quiet old lady who was whispering ‘hush.’”

Children don’t buy their own books, after all. We parents, grandparents, nannies, family friends, babysitters, quiet-old-lady caregivers of every kind continue to read this book because we need to know: while we want our little bunnies to separate-individuate themselves, once they do, what becomes of us?

'Frankissstein' Author Jeanette Winterson Gives New Life To The Monster, by Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

“We are made up of layers of time. We move chronologically — as we must, we have no choice — but our imaginative life, our emotional life, our mental life, doesn’t move in straight lines. It moves more like a boomerang,” she said. “You know, the thing keeps coming back and back. Things you were, places you were, who you were, it just returns to you.”

This idea is reflected in “Frankissstein,” not just as a project but in its structure, in the relationship between her characters. They boomerang between past and future, across fiction and history, returning and remaking gender and identity.

Yet it’s also about how we read, and why we return to stories like the one Mary Shelley published 201 years ago. “When we are reading, we return to or access emotional and imaginative states that we have known,” Winterson said. “This is very beneficial, it’s nourishing, it’s as though things are not lost to us, they can be returned.”

With Category Theory, Mathematics Escapes From Equality, by Kevin Hartnett, Quanta Magazine

The equal sign is the bedrock of mathematics. It seems to make an entirely fundamental and uncontroversial statement: These things are exactly the same.

But there is a growing community of mathematicians who regard the equal sign as math’s original error. They see it as a veneer that hides important complexities in the way quantities are related — complexities that could unlock solutions to an enormous number of problems. They want to reformulate mathematics in the looser language of equivalence.

“We came up with this notion of equality,” said Jonathan Campbell of Duke University. “It should have been equivalence all along.”

Cathleen Schine's 'The Grammarians' Introduces Rival Twins Obsessed With Wordplay, by Margaret Wappler, Los Angeles Times

Then Schine tapped into an endearing and slyly philosophical story that crosses the high spirit of Jane Austen with William Safire’s long-running New York Times’ “On Language” column.”

The result is “The Grammarians,” an intelligent escapist read for contentious times when the way we use words can reveal so much about our identity, our education, our worldview.

A Day Like Today By John Humphrys Review – 'I Like Arguing', by Fiona Sturges, The Guardian

John Humphrys is the first to admit he doesn’t deal well with authority. He inherited it from his father, who refused to use the service entrance at the grand houses where he worked as a French polisher and, as a child, once watched his aunt get a humiliating dressing-down from the vicar for missing church. Humphrys had his own brush with condescending authority figures when he was in hospital with a cyst on his spine at 13, and an “arrogant posh bastard consultant” told his retinue of trainees it was because he didn’t wash regularly. “I don’t like being defined or told what to do, whoever is in charge,” he notes, a stance that has proved useful for grilling politicians (he has interviewed eight prime ministers), though it has also landed him in hot water.

His memoir mixes engaging snapshots of his early career and analysis of the evolution of broadcasting with diatribes and petty score-settling. The early chapters tell of his passage from teen lackey on the Penarth Times in Wales, where his main task was standing outside the local church taking the names of those attending weddings and funerals, to being the first journalist on the scene at the Aberfan disaster, near Merthyr Tydfil, in which 116 children and 28 adults died after a colliery tip collapsed. Later he became a BBC foreign correspondent, reporting on the 1971 war in Pakistan, the military coup in Chile in 1973, and the Rhodesian bush war, which culminated in the election of Robert Mugabe in 1980 and where, for his own safety, Humphrys was encouraged to buy a submachine gun and put it on expenses.

Don’t Call It A Dream, by Crispin Best, Granta

i let summer take over the house
for however long it needs
and what is it
about the clawed opening of dawn
that makes me want to call it that