By David D. Robbins Jr.
This is the first of what will be a running feature, where I’ll whittle down the world a bit for you by recommending some of the best articles, podcasts, photos, videos and/or other links scattered across the internet.
1. “My President Was Black”
By Ta-Nehisi Coates | The Atlantic | Jan.-Feb. Issue
What Coates has done here is write, perhaps, the best magazine article of the year. It’s my favorite, pulling just ahead of The New Yorker editor David Remnick’s piece on Donald Trump’s victory, “An American Tragedy”. What Coates pulls off is a rarity these days, writing about race with blunt honesty.The article is about his assessment of President Barack Obama after a series of interviews, revealing his many strengths and a few shortcomings. “But Obama appealed to a belief in innocence—in particular a white innocence—that ascribed the country’s historical errors more to misunderstanding and the work of a small cabal than to any deliberate malevolence or widespread racism. America was good. America was great.” (For the record, I criticized Coates on twitter for “playing hooky from his crucial writing job — as he fluffed his Paris pad and moonlighted in writing the new Marvel “Black Panther” comic book series. I told him that “we need you back, bro!” His response was quick and funny. He wrote back, “Free Bird!!” In other words, I was like the fan in the audience yelling to the Lynyrd Skynyrd stage to play their greatest hits because I’m not interested in the new stuff.” Ha. Touché.) Also: Read unedited transcripts of Coates’ interviews with the president via The Atlantic. Also: Vox’s Ezra Klein sat down with the writer to get his unvarnished take on Trump, Obama, atheism and his favorite books. You can listen to the full interview via soundcloud:
2. “The Strange Case of the American Death Penalty”
By Jeffrey Toobin | The New Yorker | Dec. 21, 2016
I make it a point to immediately read three people when I get the New Yorker magazine — Toobin, Evan Osnos and Ryan Lizza — because they’re experts in their fields. Toobin, of course, covers the Supreme Court, among other legal issues. In his article he makes the point that “The numbers were the lowest in the modern era of the American death penalty, after a period, between 1972 and 1976, when the Supreme Court put a stop to executions.” So, what’s the story? Well, American voters tend to want the punishment to stay on the books.
3. “With Mother in the Kitchen”
A poem by Jorie Graham | The New Yorker | Dec. 12 Issue
Always good to see publications still printing poetry — and Ms. Graham is a favorite of mine. The poem begins as the title suggests. It’s too bad people find her difficult sometimes and often call her “pseudo” just because of the perceived difficulty of her work. I can’t help but love a poet who when recounting memories of her mother is inspired to write the phrase “honor the body heat”. Maybe the best part of her poem is how her thoughts of her mother casually land upon a leaf (drifting as our memories tend to do) which leads to another digression and my favorite Graham poetic trait: Addressing a person in the poem who is simultaneously the reader. It’s a wickedly wonderful stanza. I love too how Graham goes from cosmic descriptions of mortality, memory and time to a tangible and immediate line “I put the kettle back on” — deliberately “changing scale” as she says. It’s the poetic turned cinematic, and that’s just gorgeous.
4. “Lois Weber, Eloquent Filmmaker of the Silent Screen”
By Manohla Dargis | The New York Times | Dec. 15, 2016
Dargis writes about a New York showing of a restoration and reissue of the 1915 film “The Dumb Girl of Portici,” (directed by Lois Weber, the first female film director). It’s also a film known for staring ballerina Anna Pavlova, which you can read more about here via The New Yorker’s Richard Brody.
5. “Mario Vargas Llosa and His Authoritarians”
By Russell Crandal | The American Interest | Dec. 9, 2016
More than a book review … Crandall says: “What Conrad achieved in Nostromo, Vargas Llosa matches in Cinco Esquinas, which describes 1990s Peru under strongman President Alberto Fujimori and his Rasputin-like palace adviser. This 19th of Vargas Llosa’s novels proves the observation that there are truths about human social and political nature that are best told in fiction.”
6. “The Unclassifiable Essays of Eliot Weinberger”
By Christopher Byrd | The New Yorker | Dec. 14 Issue
I’m familiar with Weinberger because he’s the translator for all things Octavio Paz, some Jorge Luis Borges and the little-read Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro. But this piece is about Weinberger himself and his own work. “Recently, I visited the writer Eliot Weinberger at his home, in the West Village, in Manhattan. Weinberger, who was born in 1949, in New York, is a translator, editor, political commentator, and, above all, an essayist.”
7. PBS Newshour interviews Bruce Springsteen
Dec. 20, 2016
“Bruce Springsteen sat down with PBS NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown for a wide-ranging, 40-minute interview about his memoir, his approach to songwriting and how he now reflects back on his early life.”