WEDNESDAY, MARCH 3, 2021
...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.