Just sayin’ …
Via the Explore blog:
Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books? – an excellent and important New York Times op-ed by Christopher Myers, in response to a recent study, which found that “of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people.”
This is a really disturbing statistic, not simply because black children would clearly benefit from more books about black children but also because white children would clearly benefit from more books about black children.
We’re very fortunate to own a fair number of children’s books that feature Jewish characters and Jewish stories (thanks in large part to the truly wonderful PJ Library). But we’re also lucky to own books with Native American characters, books in which characters speak Spanish, books with characters and stories from other countries. We’ve sought out these books so our kids will see their own culture represented in the stories we read to them but also so they’ll begin to learn about and appreciate all the different peoples and cultures in the U.S. and around the world.
Via the Explore blog:
Every time I read anything about Bitcoin and the collapse of the Mt. Gox exchange, this is what I’m thinking.
The other day, someone asked me how deeply I’d delved into the Star Wars expanded universe.
By way of response, I simply asked, “How much do you want to know about what Wedge Antilles has been up since the Battle of Endor?”
Understandably, the person had no follow-up.
What motivated you to get involved with a literary magazine in your undergrad days? What was it like working with the staff of the time?gavinjcraig
The answer to your question, of course, involves a woman I liked very much. Isn’t that what college is all about?
She was an English major and a poet … and I just wanted to spend as much time as possible doing whatever it was she was doing. So, when she became involved with Michigan State’s excellent literary magazine, The Red Cedar, well, I decided I might like to help out as well.
Some absolutely amazing writers worked on and have been published in the RCR in its illustrious history as the longest-running student-managed college publications. I won’t spend time name-dropping here but you can find all the infomation about the journal at this fantastic site.
Anyhow, after a year of reading submissions as an associate editor, I was asked to take over as the fiction editor for the magazine. I learned a lot about the publication process, which served me in very good stead in my career, and I learned a lot about writing fiction and poetry, which I spent a lot of time doing in college and which, sadly, I’ve done very little of ever since. It was hard work; in addition to all of my reading and writing for class, and anything I wanted to read or write for fun, I was also reading hundreds of submissions from writers who sent in their short fiction from all over the world. In addition to reading their work (and rejecting the vast majority of it), I corresponded with a whole bunch of authors, offering suggestions for ways they might revise and strengthen their writing.
All told, I spent two years on the RCR staff and I loved it … mostly because, in addition to my feelings about a certain woman, I also had a serious interest in literature. Three of my teachers in high school — Jeffrey Welch, Eric Linder, John Hazard — got me excited about literature, both classical and contemporary. And, when I went away to college, I wanted to keep reading and writing. So it made sense to take some classes in the English department and to get involved with the exceptional literary life on campus, even though I was studying political theory and international relations.
The Spanish-language title for I, Frankenstein is both accurate and awesome.
Except insofar as “Frankenstein” is the name of the scientist who creates him; “I, Monster” or “Yo, Monstruo” would be accurate.
There are very few things that get my elitist hackles up more than when people refer to the Monster as Frankenstein.
I finally read Corey Robin’s book, The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, last week. I know I’m about a year late to this party, but I’ve been waiting to read it until the time came for me to shift gears from ancient to contemporary political theory.
It’s a very quick read and, as a series of short essays, it’s well worth your time if you’re interested in the combination of political theory and comtemporary politics that I try for at this blog and that Robin succeeds at doing on his blog.
As a book, though, it doesn’t quite accomplish what I was hoping Robin was setting out to do. Robin’s goal is to demonstrate the connection between disparate thinkers, politicians, and jurists on the Right. And that connection, mostly, is that they all subscribe to the notion that elites should have power and the common people should not. Robin alleges that conservatism in all its forms equates with reaction against the democratizing forces of the Left that have, over time, attempted to propel more and more people into the public sphere to actively participate in their own governance.
Here’s my quick review of the second installation of The Hobbit:
As a prequel to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, this film was nicely structured; it did a nice job of bringing back characters we loved, like Legolas, and characters we loved to hate, like Sauron. Like with any sort of fan fiction, it’s fun to imagine what these guys were up to before The Fellowship of the Ring.
As a sequel to the first Hobbit film, this movie was almost completely unnecessary. The parts that were keepers involved the dragon … so about a half hour of a two hour and forty minute extravaganza of non-Tolkien nonsense that included a luke-warm love affair between an elf and a tallish dwarf.
But who could have imagined, when it was first announced that one book would become three crazily-long movies, that they’d end up filling up time with a bunch of stuff that wasn’t in the book and bore no real connection to the main plotline? Oh, right, everyone.
For those who missed my review of the first Hobbit film, it’s here.
Are you familiar with Tolkien's mythos, and if so, what do you think of heroism in say, The Lord of the Rings? Frodo Baggins is the obvious protagonist, but ultimately he fails, redeemed only by his purer companion (Samwise Gamgee) and his less pure one (Gollum/Smeagol).andrerichesque
I’ve spent a fair amount of time with Tolkien and I’ve done a bit of reading on interpretations of the heroics at the heart of the Lord of the Rings saga … though I suspect that others have thought about these books, these characters, and their heroics far more than I have. So I suppose what I’ll say is this: I’m not convinced that Frodo’s failure at the climax of the tale disqualifies him from the status of hero.
While a lot of people today focus on the fact that Frodo might not have accomplished the destruction of the One Ring without both Sam and Gollum, I think it’s equally important to note that Frodo takes great risks and endures a great deal of suffering on his journey. He sets out on what is almost certainly a suicide mission, he succeeds in reaching Mordor despite the odds, he endures what very few could (recall the power of the Ring over others who hold it only briefly), and, along with his companions, he ultimately accomplishes the seemingly impossible and defeats Sauron by destroying the ring.
Imagine if we ruled out the heroism of Odysseus because he needed a great deal of assistance to do all the great deeds for which he is remembered. As just a few examples, he needed the other sailors to tie him to the mast so he could listen to the singing of the Sirens without having to fear death, he needed Nausicaa and her parents to help him complete the final leg of his journey, he needed Telemachus and Eumaeus to defeat the suitors, and — of course — he needed the help of the gods throughout the Iliad and the Odyssey in order to accomplish anything at all.
Fortunately, there’s no rule that says heroes must go it alone. That would be a very high bar for a hero to clear.
I ended my lecture this morning — on Richard Rorty and the power of literature to help us imagine new identities for ourselves, especially when it comes to moral decision-making — by asking students about “Star Wars: A New Hope.”
Specifically, I asked them whether they identified with one of the main characters over the others. By “main character,” I had in mind Luke, Leia, and Han. I suppose a case could be made, also, that Darth Vader is a main character … but I wasn’t thinking that anyone would consider him as an exemplar of moral decision-making.
One student said he always identified with Luke Skywalker. Another chose Obi-Wan Kenobi (somewhat unusually, I think, since he appears for only a few minutes and we learn almost nothing about him).
The other twenty-two students stared at me as though I’d just asked them to pick their favorite character from “My Dinner With Andre.”
What are we teaching our children?
Disclosure 1: My wife and I went to see “Hunger Games 2: Electric Boogaloo” this afternoon.
Disclosure 2: This film made me reevaluate all of my previous claims about the Hunger Games trilogy of novels.
Whereas I previously claimed that the books were all action and no character development, that the stakes were impossibly low because the people had no inner lives, I now see the error of my ways. In this film, after all, we learn that — SPOILER ALERT!!! — Katniss has a favorite color and that color is green.
Disclosure 3: Disclosure 2 is a lie.
Now that my second book’s been published, I guess it’s officially time to start working on the next one.
This new one’s going to be much more closely related to my first book, on human rights, and to a separate research project of mine on Holocaust education, than to my just-published book on heroism.
There’s pretty much nothing like staring down a dozen gigantic library books on a topic you’re excited to start learning about.
I’m very excited to announce that my new book is out; you can now get your very own copy!
If you happen to work at or attend a school or university, you might recommend to your librarian that they purchase a copy or two for their collection.
Here’s the publisher’s quick description:
The idea of heroism has become thoroughly muddled today. In contemporary society, any behavior that seems distinctly difficult or unusually impressive is classified as heroic: everyone from firefighters to foster fathers to freedom fighters are our heroes. But what motivates these people to act heroically and what prevents other people from being heroes? In our culture today, what makes one sort of hero appear more heroic than another sort?
In order to answer these questions, Ari Kohen turns to classical conceptions of the hero to explain the confusion and to highlight the ways in which distinct heroic categories can be useful at different times. Untangling Heroism argues for the existence of three categories of heroism that can be traced back to the earliest Western literature – the epic poetry of Homer and the dialogues of Plato – and that are complex enough to resonate with us and assist us in thinking about heroism today. Kohen carefully examines the Homeric heroes Achilles and Odysseus and Plato’s Socrates, and then compares the three to each other. He makes clear how and why it is that the other-regarding hero, Socrates, supplanted the battlefield hero, Achilles, and the suffering hero, Odysseus. Finally, he explores in detail four cases of contemporary heroism that highlight Plato’s success.
Kohen states that in a post-Socratic world, we have chosen to place a premium on heroes who make other-regarding choices over self-interested ones. He argues that when humans face the fact of their mortality, they are able to think most clearly about the sort of life they want to have lived, and only in doing that does heroic action become a possibility. Kohen’s careful analysis and rethinking of the heroism concept will be relevant to scholars across the disciplines of political science, philosophy, literature, and classics.
Slightly (but not totally) unrelated: a senior in one of my writing classes revealed to me that he has only read 4 books in his lifetime. How did he pass any Lit classes? Ever? Astounding. Kids these days.
I’ve read two novels in the past two weeks. They weren’t great works of literature or anything, just a couple of fun books between reading student essays and starting in on all the political theory I’m going to read to start my new book project. But, man, I love reading. It’s pretty much what I do all the time.
In all seriousness, how is it even possible to have read only four books ever?! Good lord, what sort of a life is that?!