Chad Comello

Librarian, cinephile, et al

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My Mount Rushmore of Singers

At this moment, anyway:

Sam Cooke, Frank Sinatra, Julie Andrews, Whitney Houston

With a runner-up trophy for Marty Robbins.

Studs Terkel’s ‘Working’

I picked up a copy of Studs Terkels’ Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, a sort of oral history of life and work in and around 1970s Chicago. I’ve kept it on my nightstand and slowly chipped away at it when I was between other books. It’s quite long and I’m not even halfway through, but it has some interesting pull quotes from a variety of subjects, like:

A copy chief at an ad agency:

“We’re all vice presidents,” laughs the copy chief. “Clients like to deal with vice presidents. Also, it’s a cheap thing to give somebody. Vice presidents get fired with great energy and alacrity.” …

“You become what you behold.”

A steelworker:

“Everybody should have something to point to.” …

“Automation? Depends on how it’s applied. It frightens me if it puts me out on the street. It doesn’t frighten me if it shortens my work week.” …

“You can be a fanatic if you had the time. The whole thing is time. That is, I think, one reason rich kids tend to be fanatic about politics: they have time. Time, that’s the important thing.”

And Terkel:

The science of medicine has increased our life expectancy; the science of the business frowns upon the elderly. …

It is about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying. Perhaps immortality, too, is part of the quest. To be remembered was the wish, spoken and unspoken, of the heroes and heroines of this book.

These are not yet automata.

Things I’m thankful for: a Thanksgiving list

  • my wife
  • family
  • friends
  • my job
  • my banjo
  • books
  • the coming winter
  • movie theater gift cards
  • the Judge John Hodgman podcast
  • Sam Cooke
  • the smell of evening air
  • Thanksgiving
  • a warm bed in a cool room
  • lakeside morning runs
  • egg nog
  • health insurance
  • trees

A Ghost Story

“O’er all there hung the shadow of a fear,
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted,
And said, as plain as whisper in the ear,
The place is haunted.”
– Thomas Hood, “The Haunted House”

I thought of that poem, used to great effect in Slow West, after seeing A Ghost Story, David Lowery’s breath of a film.

It’s best to know as little as possible about it. But know that it’s a haunting, beautifully shot, melancholic, slyly funny, and mercifully short meditation on the slipperiness of time and memory. Quiet, bathed in natural light, it shows how mesmerizing it is to follow a ghost that is unstuck in time. Pairs well with Richard McGuire’s graphic novel Here.

‘Working toward the truth’ in “How to Think”

There goes Alan Jacobs being right again:

it would be better for all concerned if we were content to say that our political opponents are merely wrong. But that’s unlikely to happen, at least widely, because once you say someone is wrong you commit yourself to explaining why he’s wrong — to the world of argument and evidence — and that makes work for you. Plus, you forego the immense pleasures of moral superiority and righteous indignation. So speculation about our enemies’ motives will continue to be a major feature of our political life, which will have the same practical consequences as Old Man Yells at Cloud.

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This is something I wrestle with, especially after reading Jacobs’ excellent new book How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World At OddsRighteous indignation and moral superiority—the chief renewable energy source of cable news and Twitter—make for an intoxicating but lethal combo. They don’t negate the ability to think and explain reasonably, but they can easily overpower the desire to, and turn the tendency to emote first and think later into a destructive habit.

Jacobs is one of my favorite cultural and political thinkers. Clear headed, fair minded, intellectually rigorous and generous, his insights in this short book and on his blog are encouraging and timely: how to examine biases, how to reckon with cultural “others”, and how to engage in the hard labor of “working toward the truth” with a generosity of spirit and strength of character.

That last point is important. Lacking generosity and strength of character not only make us bad thinkers, but bad people. There’s a reason the book isn’t called How to Be Right:

When people cease to be people because they are, to us, merely representatives or mouthpieces of positions we want to eradicate, then we, in our zeal to win, have sacrificed empathy: we have declined the opportunity to understand other people’s desires, principles, fears. And that is a great price to pay for supposed “victory” in debate.

It’s especially difficult to engage with political opponents who are terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad thinkers. But the sooner we all realize how wrong we can be, and how good and healthy that realization is, the sooner we can become better thinkers and break the vicious cycle our unhealthy human tendencies trap us in.

Another thinker I highly respect is Andrew Sullivan, erstwhile blogger at The Dish and now weekly columnist. His latest tackles the danger of the “right side of history” fallacy:

No party, no cause, no struggle, however worthy, is ever free from evil. No earthly cause is entirely good. And to believe with absolute certainty that you are on “the right side of history,” or on the right side of a battle between “good and evil,” is a dangerous and seductive form of idolatry. It flatters yourself. And it will lead you inevitably to lose your moral bearings because soon, you will find yourself doing and justifying things that are evil solely because they advance the cause of the “good.”

Current events are bearing this out. Idolatry is one of the easier sins to commit because anything can be made into an idol, and we live in a culture that’s particular fertile ground for doing so.

Who are some current writers and thinkers you respect, and why?

‘Spotlight’ The News

Let me second Rod Dreher’s considerations of Spotlight in light of the Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore sexual harassment scandals:

It was even better than I remembered it. One aspect of the movie stood out in sharp relief: the way so very many people in Boston knew for years that there was something horrible going on with priests and children in the Archdiocese, but engaged in a conspiracy of silence. It wasn’t that they knew details; it’s that they didn’t want to know details. They wanted to look away because facing the truth was too difficult.

More:

What I can’t get out of my mind now is thinking about all the women who have been sexually abused and assaulted by men who got away with it. Take Harvey Weinstein, for instance. Everybody in Hollywood knew what he was doing, or if they didn’t know specifically, they certainly had reason to know he was a lecherous bully. Nobody cared. To tell the truth about Harvey Weinstein would have brought down their world on their head, same as those victims in Boston. It was an informal conspiracy of silence.

Or as Mark Ruffalo put it: They knew, and they let it happen!

Spotlight was my second-favorite film of 2015, and it totally did hold up on rewatching. There’s something mesmerizing about the atmosphere director Tom McCarthy creates, both in the specific time period and how the ensemble works together. Very lived-in and natural, which makes the story they are investigating all the more devastating and immediate.

Rod, author of The Benedict Option and Crunchy Cons, covered the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal in the early 2000s, which eventually caused him to leave Catholicism for Orthodox Christianity. This has made his blog an excellent source of informed commentary on the intersection of religion and politics.

Nothing to read here

This, from Andy Weir in his By the Book column at the New York Times, seems like an odd thing to say:

For the record, my stories are meant to be purely escapist. They have no subtext or message. If you think you see something like that, it’s in your head, not mine. I just want you to read and have fun.

#1: It’s not odd for an author to want his books to be purely escapist and fun. It is odd to insist that they have no subtext or message, and further, that if readers detect those things they are wrong.

#2: Not all subtext is intentional and not all intended “messages” are received by the reader.

#3: Authorial intent dies once the book hits the shelves.

Cool down

At our Subaru dealer for a car tune-up, I spotted this sign beneath the TV on the wall in the waiting room:

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No, thank you. This rule ought to be extended indefinitely and everywhere. Especially public areas. Cable news of any kind is bad for the mind, body, and soul.

I wonder what happened to inspire this. Fistfights over bad coffee and granola bars? I guess a room full of people waiting to hear how much they’ll be shelling out for their car don’t need much of a push to go over the edge.

Also love the attempted copyediting of the hyphen and “either”. Silent protest?

Tom Hanks Goes Postal

Arriving home after a long weekend in Asheville, I opened our mailbox and saw a letter addressed to me from Playtone, Tom Hanks’ company. Oh shit, I said out loud. I’d typed and sent him a short letter a few weeks ago about my photo of his book and to thank him for being a great ambassador for typewriters. I didn’t expect to get anything back, but got something anyway:

On the left is the letter from Hanks and on the right is a reproduction of his foreword “Eleven Reasons to Use A Typewriter” from the new book Typewriters: Iconic Machines from the Golden Age of Mechanical Writing, which makes a great cheeky companion to the Typewriter Manifesto.

I think I’ve now peaked as a typist.

 

A Hopey Changey Library

Somehow I missed this story on how the forthcoming Obama Center (above) will be challenging the “scam” of presidential libraries. The author, who wrote a book on the topic, lays out how:

The National Archives and Records Administration—which operates presidential library-museums for every president from Herbert Hoover through George W. Bush—won’t be operating either for Obama. His private Obama Foundation, not the government, will own and operate the museum. And there really won’t be a presidential library. The Obama Foundation will pay for NARA to digitize unclassified records and release them to the public as they become available, but the center’s “Library,” which may or may not house a local branch of the Chicago Public Library, will not contain or control presidential papers and artifacts, digital or otherwise. Instead, according to a NARA press release that called the museum “a new model for the preservation and accessibility of presidential records,” those records will be stored in “existing NARA facilities”—meaning one or more of the agency’s research or records centers across the country.

Is this good or bad?

The notion that a federal presidential library would contain no papers, and not actually be federally operated, is astonishing. But to those like myself who have advocated for years—without much success—that it’s time to reform the broken presidential library system, it’s also an important positive development, and one that could be revolutionary.

Oh.

Though I’ve been to several presidential museums, I don’t think I’ve ever been in the library portions of them. I wonder how this will play among scholars who actually need access to the records. Will it be more convenient or less convenient for them to be separated from the “flashy, partisan temples touting huckster history” (LOL)? We’ll see, I guess.

I do like the idea of including a branch of the Chicago Public Library. That won’t assuage all the other local concerns about the Obama Library, but it would go a long way to keep what can easily become an isolated, self-contained operation connected with the community that feeds it. All the better it will be for the former Reader in Chief.

Not sure if any of the other modern presidential libraries incorporate public libraries, but that would be a mutually beneficial new trend.

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