TIMES AND TOWN: We loved what Professor Kendi said...


...until we possibly didn't: On Sunday, in its Book Review section, the New York Times interviewed Ibram X. Kendi about his reading habits.

It's the latest in a weekly Book Review feature—a feature called "By The Book." On Sunday, we became at least a partial Kendi fan based upon this statement:

NEW YORK TIMES (2/28/21): Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

PROFESSOR KENDI: Without question, “All About Love: New Visions,” by bell hooks, brought me closer to my partner, Sadiqa, years before we met. “All About Love” taught me how to love; that love is a verb.

Sadiqa Kendi is a pediatric emergency medicine doctor—and she identifies as a woman. Dating all the way back to Buddy Holly's unembarrassed "girly-man" persona, we like a straight man who speaks (and think) in such ways about his girl friend or his wife. 

(Unashamedly, Holly would burble and coo as he sang his songs. Routinely, his songs established a basic point—it was easy to fall in love because of what his girl friend was like.)

That brief statement to the Times helps make us a Kendi fan. We wish that boys and young men were vaccinated with larger doses of such speaking and thinking by men.

That said, we sometimes chuckle at the general form of the weekly "By The Book" feature. We've been told that we're sometimes joined by the gods on Olympus.

In a brief search this morning, we couldn't find the (perhaps imagined) Platonic ideal of the By The Book interview, the version of this weekly feature which lives inside our brains. Sometimes, though, we chuckle at By The Book's presentations, which may go exactly like this:

NEW YORK TIMES (11/22/20): What books are on your night stand?

AUTHOR: At night, I mostly read either poetry or gumshoe noir. Right now it’s (for poetry) Jericho Brown’s “The Tradition,” Jorie Graham’s “Runaway” and “When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through,” an anthology of Native Nations poetry edited by Joy Harjo; plus (for gumshoe): Arnaldur Indridason’s “Strange Shores” and Ace Atkins’s “The Revelators.” I’m a bit of a “library cormorant,” to borrow Coleridge’s memorable phrase—always on the swim through books, gulping down this and that, here and there.

NEW YORK TIMES: What’s the last great book you read?

AUTHOR: Bao Ninh’s “The Sorrow of War,” part of a recent deep dive into the Vietnam War in fiction and historical writing. A haunting, brutal account of the conflict from the perspective of a young North Vietnamese soldier.

NEW YORK TIMES: Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

AUTHOR: Vasily Grossman’s “Life and Fate.”

NEW YORK TIMES: Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

AUTHOR: In a tent, by torchlight, at the end of a long day in the mountains, with another to follow tomorrow. Tired in the legs, content in the mind. The first stars beginning to show in a clear night sky, a silhouette-sense of the ridgelines around. Breath misting in the cold, and a few pages of a good novel before deep sleep.

NEW YORK TIMES: Which writers—novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets—working today do you admire most?

AUTHOR: Alexis Wright: I’m awed by the range, experiment and political intelligence of her work, from fiction such as “Carpentaria” and “The Swan Book,” to her “collective memoir” of an Aboriginal elder in “Tracker.” As essayist, activist, novelist and oral historian she is vital on the subject of land and people. Barry Lopez has always been an immense inspiration: I value the grace and luminosity of his sentences, the moral charge of his writing, and the symphonic patterning he embeds over the length of books like “Arctic Dreams” or “Horizon.” Among others, then, I’ve huge admiration for the ways Robin Wall Kimmerer, Jedediah Purdy, Rebecca Solnit and the theater-maker Simon McBurney go about their work.

NEW YORK TIMES: Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?

AUTHOR: Heroine: Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials.”

And so on from there.

We'll admit to a guilty pleasure. When we peruse such portraits and/or self-descriptions, we're frequently overtaken by an anthropological musing:

We're struck by the fact that none of these giants of vast erudition ever noticed what was happening in the lowbrow public discourse over the past many years.

They didn't notice the con involved in the repetitive claim that the Social Security trust fund was "just a bunch of worthless IOUs."

They didn't notice the con involved in the claim that Candidate Gore had said that he invented the Internet (or in the claim that Gore had said a thousand other such things.) 

They didn't speak up when Rush Limbaugh told millions of people that Hillary Clinton was involved in the murder of Vince Foster, a murder which didn't occur. They didn't say boo when Reverend Falwell peddled his Clinton Chronicles tape, a tape which chronicled the Clintons' many murders.

When the newspaper which publishes By The Book spent a month sliming Naomi Wolf in overtly misogynist fashion, they didn't seem to notice. (In lengthy Nexis searches, we managed to find two people who rose to speak on behalf of Wolf—William Safire and Bill Kristol. As for Gore, he was repeatedly trashed for "hiring a woman to teach him to be a man." It was an MSM script.) 

They didn't speak when Diane Sawyer asked Marla Maples if sex with The Donald was the best sex she ever had. When Diane Sawyer ambushed Candidate Gore with that silly "farm chores" pop quiz. When Diane Sawyer, live and direct from her many fine homes, ambushed Candidate Hillary Clinton with the claim that the two houses she and her husband owned were too fine and too large.

When the Times ran that astonishing Uranium One takedown? Dearest darlings, use your heads! Do you have to ask?

In spite of all the vast erudition, does anyone ever notice anything that's happening in the world? We'll admit that we sometimes think such thoughts when we peruse these By The Book features and other such presentations.

In the exchanges posted above, the author in question was willing to make some concessions.  He was prepared to admit that he's a bit of a “library cormorant”— that he's "always on the swim through books, gulping down this and that." 

He admitted that he values the symphonic patterning embedded over the length of certain books. 

Has he ever read a book anyone else has heard of?  We can't be entirely sure when hit with a question like that.

We sometimes think we see performance and branding in such presentations—performance and branding on the part of the New York Times if not on the part of the author. We wonder how so many high-quality books can be read with so little public value emerging.

More often, we just chuckle at the performative erudition. In this way, the New York Times is telling us subscribers that we are extremely bright too, which we just basically aren't out here in the streets of Our Town.

We'll admit it! We thought we saw a hint of this flaw in Professor Kendi's By The Book outing. We loved what he said about his partner, but where did things go after that?

Our view? The man is an antimisogynist god. That leaves us with an important question:

How's his antiracism?

Tomorrow: Antiracism and Town

Also this: Our own favorite fictional heroine is the "fair maiden, her name I don't know" in the traditional western ballad, The Ranger's Command. 

She rose from her bed in the dead hour of night, then taught a bunch of wavering cowboys that they had to fight for their land. Might we see a hint of Promising Young Woman in this traditional heroine?

For the Joan Baez version, just click here. We think it's her best recording ever.

Before that, you had Woody Guthrie.


  1. I listened to Buddy Holly back in the day, when his songs were on the radio, and many times since then. I have never, ever thought of him as a "girly man," whatever that is.

    I can understand that Somerby might have a different impression of Buddy Holly, but does he have to state his personal impression as some kind of fact? Why not allow for the possibility that not everyone considers him girly?

    Such an impression says a great deal more about Somerby than it does about Buddy Holly, in my opinion.

    1. Yes. Somerby was saying something about the male ethos of the 50’s and how refreshing he found Holly’s penchant for conveying tenderness and marked affection for the love objects of his songs.

    2. And then he ruined it by calling Buddy Holly a "girly man." That's how all the feminists roll.

    3. He didn’t call Holly a girly man, he alluded to the fact that such tenderness in men garnered that term and he went on to profess admiration for men who display this sort emotionalism toward the women they love.

      Try leaving off being a putz for five minutes on this site.

    4. "Dating all the way back to Buddy Holly's unembarrassed "girly-man" persona,"

      What do you think it means when someone says a person has a "girly-man" persona?

      You are the one who reads what she wants to hear instead of what is written.

    5. His admiration for men who are unabashedly emotional toward their women goes all the way to the fifties when Holly was perceived as girlishly effusive in that day and age and his admiration of such men continues to this day.

      Somerby goes on to say that even now he wishes that more men and boys “were vaccinated” with what would be more resistance to being labeled unmanly (girly man) and felt free to openly voice great affection.

    6. The fact that the term “girly man” “ruined it” for you is more than I ever wanted to know about whichever scared-even-to-use-a-pseudonym ceaselessly fault-finding anonymous human being you are.

    7. It is a very hard situation when playing the lottery and never won, or keep winning low fund not up to 100 bucks, i have been a victim of such a tough life, the biggest fund i have ever won was 100 bucks, and i have been playing lottery for almost 12 years now, things suddenly change the moment i came across a secret online, a testimony of a spell caster called DR EMU, who help people in any type of lottery numbers, i was not easily convinced, but i decided to give try, now i am a proud lottery winner with the help of DR EMU, i won $1,000.0000.00 and i am making this known to every one out there who have been trying all day to win the lottery, believe me this is the only way to win the lottery. contact him via email: Emutemple@gmail.com call or whats app +2347012841542 Website: http://emutemple.website2.me/

  2. I am impressed that Somerby knows Robert MacFarlane well enough to say, definitively, that he didn't notice or care about Somerby long list of preoccupations.

    Ibram Kendi didn't mention those things either, but I guess he gets a pass because Somerby liked something else he said.

    1. Does Somerby not realize that MacFarlane is British and no doubt preoccupied with British politics and not American concerns?

  3. "We sometimes think we see performance and branding in such presentations—performance and branding on the part of the New York Times if not on the part of the author."

    When a person is well educated or has expertise in some obscure field, other people do feel like they are putting it on a bit, if they actually start to tell you about their work. But that reflects the insecurities of the listener, not some "performance" by the person expounding on a subject they were most likely ASKED to talk about.

    For myself, I never talk about my work except with others in my field. Somerby's reaction is part of the reason why. Part of my work involves studying facial expressions and the inevitable reply is always "can you tell what I am thinking?". And then people get self-conscious, even if I tell them "no." If I go on about other aspects of my work, people quickly find it boring, as I found MacFarlane's list of obscure authors. But since he is a writer himself, why wouldn't he be reading different things than non-authors? He is no doubt interested in stylistic aspects and technicalities of writing that I don't notice at all, other than to receive their collective impact. I don't read cookbooks, but I can like food without knowing how it is made.

    No one person can go into depth in everything. There are always people who know a great deal more than you do about a particular subject. Asking them to tell you about it, doesn't mean they are showing off or being performative or that they look down on you or any of the things Somerby attributes to these NY Times interviews. Those reactions are Somerby's problem. He feels diminished because of his own self-expectations not anything other people have done to him.

    If Somerby imagines that others reading that interview feel the same way he does, he may or may not be correct. I don't, and I doubt most people out of their early 20s would. There is no law saying anyone out of school is required to read any books at all. Many people don't and are happy with that choice. Somerby is wrong when he believes the NY Times is laying that expectation on anyone, and he is certainly wrong if he thinks MacFarlane is laying it on too thick. It is his life's work. He no doubt loves reading and has been doing it a long time. Why would he be reading bestsellers like everyone else?

  4. In the annals of great literature on lofty subjects, here is a lost version of “The Tyger” by William Blake, circa 1794-2001, that lay around my house:

    Tyger tyger burning bright
    What does Gore have on tonight?
    Silly buttons, numbered three
    Brian Williams hassles thee

    Internet didst thou invent
    Or didst thou only just create?
    Didst thou say it, dost relent
    Oh girly man as candidate?

    In the Wolf’s lair dark and drear
    Did Naomi teach thee fear
    Fear of being manly man
    Did O’Dowd soon spoil your plan?

    Mighty Matthews thee to prick
    Charged thou bathroom floor wouldst lick
    Yet for all the world to see
    President thou’ldst never be

    Tyger tyger burning bright
    In the forests of the night
    Tyger tyger burning bright
    What had Algore on tonight?

    1. enthusiastic finger snaps!!!

    2. Not Blake. It seems to have been written by the invisible worm that flies in the night in the howling storm.

    3. Stick to trolling. Poetry isn't your gig.

  5. It isn't fun reading by flashlight (torchlight) because the light is so uneven.

  6. "She rose from her bed in the dead hour of night, then taught a bunch of wavering cowboys that they had to fight for their land. Might we see a hint of Promising Young Woman in this traditional heroine?"

    Aside from the fact that they were fighting against rustlers, not someone stealing land but cattle, the only commonality here is violence perpetrated by a woman. The woman was not being attacked and she was not seeking revenge. She was on a cattle drive defending the herd. There has never been any oddity in a woman being protective, even to the point of fighting, to save another.
    It was the revenge aspect of Promising Young Woman that was different, not the fact of female violence.

    Woody Guthrie changed the lyrics to Fair Lady of the Plains to the point that they make no sense. For one thing, there are no Rangers involved, and in the older version, the woman is being taught to shoot against Indians who are trying to drive them from their land, not just steal cattle. In that song, she dies, and her death is the point of the song.

    Somerby just grabs these lyrics, apparently without thinking about them, to inflate his aging hippie liberal persona and fool us into thinking he cares a fig about brave women or misogyny. He doesn't. This is more NY Times and liberal bashing and Somerby is no feminist. If he were, he wouldn't spend so much time hating on Rachel Maddow.

  7. “ This is more NY Times and liberal bashing and Somerby is no feminist. If he were, he wouldn't spend so much time hating on Rachel Maddow.”

    No, he’d stick to castigating Amy Coney Barrett.

    Great reasoning there, little lady.

    1. Somerby has never said a word here against Amy Coney Barrett. And aren't you making some assumptions about my gender?

    2. Amy Coney Barrett is so ugly, even a drunk Brett Kavanaugh hasn't tried to rape her.

    3. Thanks, snowflake.

    4. I can't imagine being so fucking ugly that even a serial rapist put on the Supreme Court by the Republican Party, like Brett Kavanaugh, skeeves me.

  8. No. I’m sure of your gender and your expectations.

    1. The person who doesn't think the Republican Party is a shit hole of bigots, imbeciles, and assholes thinks she's super perceptive.
      Must have got her Masters in Perception at Trump University.

    2. I never said I was “super perceptive”. Merely more perceptive than you.

      Isn’t everyone?

    3. No one on the Right, if that's what you mean.
      They're currently blaming the Democratic Party for publishing decisions made by a private business.

      Very perceptive of you to see through that shtick to realize they are assholes, not morons.