Read Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas. It is a light, almost stand-uppy commentary on childhood as Iranian-American during the late 1970s and 1980s, and then vignettes from marriage (to a Frenchman). Not quite Thurberesque. People my age will recognize many of the anecdotes, and that is part of the effort, to remind readers that we all share much in common despite our different backgrounds. I wanted more insight about her mother, about her (perhaps non-existent) political engagement or thinking about Iran, and about her cosmopolitanism and what that means for others.
In our discussion I was of course reminded of the amazing Iranian film A Separation.
And then of course Mariam Satrapi’s fantastic graphic novel Persepolis. And lastly, my colleague’s Mary Hegland’s Days of Revolution: Political Culture and Process in an Iranian Village.
I saw this mentioned in Marc Bloch, so I got a copy through interlibrary loan. Hitler and I, by Otto Strasser was published in 1940, and is a hurriedly written account (one-sided, if that word applies to people in Hitler’s orbit?) of the German politics and intrigue leading to the rise of the Nazi Party. Strasser and his brother (who was killed by the SS) were early allies of Hitler in the 1920s. Otto Strasser broke early, and formed what was known as the Black Front to oppose Hitler. Anyone who reads this and isn’t terrified by the constant obvious parallels to our current Republican Party being taken over by right-wing fanatics is sleeping through life.
Enjoyed reading Alexander Todorov’s book, Face Value: The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions, and discussing in my Friday morning (early!) book group. Coincidentally, in my class on the economics of gender in developing countries, I had touched on evolutionary psychology of gender differences. A student asked whether that kind of research (evolutionary approaches to the mind, etc) were not discredited. Indeed, most older research certainly has been discredited. Plenty of present research will also be discredited. And Todorov does a great job showing that! Does that mean the no new research should be conducted? I think not. Every responsible academic, though, should acknowledge how fraught the subject matter is. Todorov is an excellent writer, and a careful researcher. So this book is a fine introduction.
I thought this short story, “Blushes,” by Graham Swift, in The New Yorker, January 18 2021, was tremendous as a statement of quiet competence in writing, on a well-trodden theme: towards the end of life, looking back and having a childhood memory stick. (Rosebud?) Every human, one imagines, over a certain age is familiar with this sentiment, and one can imagine more clearly, when confronted with writing like this, what it would mean to not have these kinds of memory flashes. The sense of continuity constructed by the brain: “that self was myself, even as it was a different self,” is arguably one of our most mysterious human traits. Some commentary over at Mookse.
The story “Good-Looking” by Souvankham Thammavongsa in the March 1, 2021 issue of The New Yorker. Quite enjoyable read, for the craft. About as concise as possible as a portrayal of how the child remembers something, knows a bit of the backstory, can fill in many gaps, and sits there 30 years later, as an adult, and wonders about the gap between “knowing” someone like your own father, and your father’s knowing of himself. I found it interesting that she chose to use “air bubbles” at the end…? Carbon dioxide is not usually thought of as air. Deliberate? Mistake? Everything else is so precise, why that? Anyway, one cannot really complain about two pages written so lucidly and insightfully.
I think the answer is pretty simple: if you care that inequality in the United States has risen and that many, many people are being “left behind” then you should be in favor. The pundits, including many prominent economists who are associated with the Democratic Party, and many reactionary economists associated with Republican party and libertarian-y types, will say this is “irresponsible” because the large transfer will be inflationary. The solution to the inflation possibility is very simple: raise taxes on the wealthy and reduce military spending and stop the giveaways to the corporate farm sector to ensure interest rates do not rise dramatically and that the increase in spending by the bottom half of the income distribution is not putting pressure on prices. Maybe while you are at it reform housing regulations (allow fourplexes in every single family zoned neighborhood) so that the bottom half of the income distribution in expensive urban areas is more likely to invest/consume better housing stock.
“The Wind” by Lauren Groff, in The New Yorker, was a straightforward, powerful story of domestic violence. I confess it is a genre that no reader, let alone me, enjoys, told, as it is, from the eyes of a child. But sometimes you have to, you should, go out of your way, grit your teeth, and read. You need the constant reminder of the world. She is a beautiful, lyrical writer.
A very short allegory, “A Wrinkle in the Realm” by Ben Okri. Okri had a whole volume of short allegories some time ago, that I found difficult to read. Here the idea is straightforward, but it is a wrinkle. I think maybe a wrinkle on Recitatif, by Toni Morrison? The fiction works because the reader is constantly aware of all that they are bringing to the story: an immense cultural and literary understanding through which the simple story is filtered. Like Recitatif, it feels like an exercise, and the allegory’s subject matter is so serious that maybe we humans do need regular exercise in this realm? I listened to Okri, with his quiet straightforward delivery, and I think that might be better than reading it?