Thursday, February 25, 2021

1,001 Nights of Reading: Night 39


"Iraq: The War of the Imagination" by Mark Danner

If there's any thesis to Danner's essay, it's that the GWB administration didn't know how the Iraqi war would turn out and now neither do we. This was written four years into the year. We're nineteen years into the war with no signs of it ending. Now of course you could say that the toppling of Saddam Hussein was the end of the war, but in the administration's own framing, this was Phase One, and Phase Two was what to do next. The first thing they did was call for a de-Baathification of the country, that is, a dismantling in all its forms of Hussein's Baath party, which drove the party members underground.

1,001 Nights of Reading: Night 38


"People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk" by Lorrie Moore

Notes up front. "People like that are the only people here." These are the parents whose children have serious illnesses (tumors, cancers) and who come off as dopily optimistic to the Mother in this story.

"Canonical babbling" is a designed period in a child's life when he or she spends a lot of his or her time babbling, a period that comes before the onset of spoken words.

"Peed onk" is pediatric oncology, the area of medicine that deals with treating the cancers of children.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

1,001 Nights of Reading: Night 37


"Werner" by Jo Ann Beard

Originally published in the (now-defunct?) literary journal Tin House, "Werner" by Jo Ann Beard tells the story of a man who escapes his apartment building when it's on fire. It's a wonderfully written piece, published as nonfiction, but I doubt if any of the particulars of it are true. The tale is told as a play-by-play, from Werner waking up to the smoke to looking for clothes to looking for his cat, et cetera, the kind of knowledge a third person does not have access to, and unless this Werner has 20/20 recall to retell it, the story is likely one-hundred percent imaginary fabric.

Monday, February 22, 2021

1,001 Nights of Reading: Night 36


"Figures in the Distance" by Jamaica Kincaid

"Figures in the Distance" is an except from Jamaica Kincaid's novel Annie John, but it has been published as an independent work of short fiction in an anthology called Doubletakes, edited by T. Coraghessan Boyle. As Boyle writes in his introduction to Kincaid's piece, it reads like nonfiction, a sophisticated diary entry, wherein a grown woman reflects on her life as a ten-year-old girl, when she discovered that those close to her could die.

What makes this story so good? Little surprises. Crosses in the beginning that haunt her. The girl being afraid of her mother's hands because they had prepared the body of a girl who had died of fever. The lie our narrator tells at the end. Kincaid took a premise that in lesser hands could have been straightforward and forgettable, but she managed to bring it alive with the particularities of the girl's world.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

1,001 Nights of Reading: Night 35


"On sumptuary laws" by Michel de Montaigne

In Montaigne's time, there were laws that prohibited ordinary people from spending too much money on fine apparel, one reason being that fine clothes belong to nobles, lords, kings. Montaigne says that if you really wanted to get people to stop wanting these markers of riches, you would discourage the rich from wearing these garments and only allow the lower classes to wear them. I'm sure these remarks are tongue in cheek.

"Driving as Metaphor" by Rachel Cusk

Driving as driving, more like. The major insight is that we want people to drive faster when we do, driver slower when we're worried about ourselves and our loved ones' safety. We're never content.