Packer’s recent cover story for The Atlantic — “Elegy for the American Century” — is an exceptional piece of longform reporting and vivid narration. Excerpted from his new book, Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century.
Really enjoyed this substantive recent conversation on Krista Tippett’s “On Being” podcast. At one point, Tippett quotes Cole’s Blind Spot, one of my favorite books from the last few years: “To look is to see only a fraction of what one is looking at. Even in the most vigilant eye, there is a blind spot. What is missing?” She tells Cole, “I find that useful language.” The ruminative Cole responds:
Well, thank you. I find it very fortifying as an idea, to think about what is not evident, what’s not apparent. I have a real struggle, especially when I’m writing for the Times. I have a very sympathetic, understanding, and encouraging editor, who lets me get away with all kinds of things, but I’m always trying to lower the volume of my essays. Very often, I’m trying to write and not say more than can justly be said. I want to reduce the number of sparks. I want to embed hesitation and lack of certainty in it.
“A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.”
Hadn’t seen this Camus quote before. (It appropriately closed a new profile on Sam Mendes in TNY.)
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
— Annie Dillard, “The Writing Life”
A superb and insightful essay on language and family.
A wonderful and humbling New Yorker profile of this 74-year-old philosopher (and so much else).
The novel feels immediately canonical, so firm and unerring is Hamid’s understanding of our time and its most pressing questions. Whom are we prepared to leave behind in our own pursuit of happiness? Whom are we able to care for, whom are we willing to care for, and why are our answers to those questions so rarely the same? At one point, Saeed points out to Nadia that millions of refugees previously came to their own native country, “when there were wars nearby.” Nadia replies, “That was different. Our country was poor. We didn’t feel we had as much to lose.” Comfort, she knows, can anesthetize one against concern for others.
I have endless gratitude for and pride in the America that welcomed refugees I would be lucky enough to get to know and love, with my wife and her parents at the top of the list.
Enjoyed this short essay by Elif Batuman.
Years ago, long before I had children or was even married, a friend with children said, “The thing about having kids is that after a while you forget what it was like before you had them.” The idea was shocking. Busy enough with my own life, I couldn’t envisage a future self whose comings and goings were circumscribed, apparently happily, by the wants and needs of people half my size. But that’s what happened. As I grew into the role of parent, I sometimes felt as if I were taking apart a ship and using the planks to build a ship for someone else. I was building a ship across time, out of my time.
The official flag for The Refugee Nation, a team of ten refugees currently competing in the Rio Olympics, draws its colour scheme and design from lifejackets. Designed by Syrian artist and refugee Yara Said, the flag is a vivid orange with a single black stripe.
Learn more about this beautiful effort.
From Michael Auping’s Seven Interviews with Tadao Ando:
The idea of a center is an interesting one, and one that is more of a Western concept. Roland Barthes made a comment on visiting Japan that it is a country that doesn’t seem to have a center; great depth, but no center. I think I carry that aspect of Japan with me. For me, the center of a building is always the person who is in it, experiencing the space from within it themselves. The challenge is in allowing each person to be the center, to be generous enough with the space to allow them to feel they are the center.
On a road trip last weekend, I finally got around to listening to this Nikole Hannah-Jones episode about the Normandy School District from July 2015. Truly dispiriting.
Having just finished book three of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle (I enjoyed the first two more, though this volume’s still captivating), I was eager to listen to both part one and part two of the author’s interviews on Michael Silverblatt’s “Bookworm.”
It’s great listening. These insights from Silverblatt — which followed his comment that Knausgaard clearly knows his “great literature” — rang especially true for me:
What’s daring about My Struggle is that you’re willing to put the difficulty of the literature of the century — Joyce on — aside, to recapture the human. To make it human again, or to restore it to humanness. And in doing so, you risk being wildly misunderstood….
These works of great literature, in some way, speak to readers. And they speak from a world of genius. And I feel that in order to restore the possibility of originality, and even grandeur, you had to enter the zone of shame and the zone of ordinary life, which is banality. And you had to ask, Can great literature be made of such things? Am I willing to try to write six volumes of daily life, when all of us are feeling that our daily lives are disappointing and dissatisfying? Can the novel of Knausgaard restore our feelings of the importance of daily life?
I can’t think, personally, of anything more important. I’m very grateful when I read these books, because I feel like you’ve restored my interest in human beings. In going to the grocery. In feeding a child and making sure things are taken care of from one day to the next.
Terrific “On Being” conversation.
A lovely short essay by Alexis C. Madrigal.
Enjoyed this piece, especially Ashton’s quoting of composer George Ligeti's secretary, writing to a requester of some kind:
He is creative and, because of this, totally overworked. Therefore, the very reason you wish to study his creative process is also the reason why he (unfortunately) does not have time to help you in this study. He would also like to add that he cannot answer your letter personally because he is trying desperately to finish a Violin Concerto which will be premiered in the Fall.
Interesting historical perspective from Chrystia Freeland, writing in the Times:
The story of Venice’s rise and fall is told by the scholars Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, in their book “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” as an illustration of their thesis that what separates successful states from failed ones is whether their governing institutions are inclusive or extractive. Extractive states are controlled by ruling elites whose objective is to extract as much wealth as they can from the rest of society. Inclusive states give everyone access to economic opportunity; often, greater inclusiveness creates more prosperity, which creates an incentive for ever greater inclusiveness.