Reading, Seeing (i)

I don’t promise to keep this up regularly, but wanted to give it a try — talking a bit about some books I read and shows I see. Few of the books and none of the shows will be very new, and some may be very old.

Reading.

I’ve got a few more chapters of Paul Krugman’s The Conscience of a Liberal (2007) to read. I’m reading it slowly, and admiring it deeply.

Krugman persuasively shows that America from the Roosevelt administration through the Nixon years was a nation of remarkable economic equality, social enlightenment, and genuine two-party government, (which we all took for granted as the way America is), and that the Republican goal, from Reagan on, has been to reinstate extreme economic inequality, halt or undo social improvement, and refuse political compromise and co-operation, thus derailing the democratic process.

Krugman writes with grace and clarity, and is probably the only economist I’ve ever been able to understand.

Two quotations:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, campaigning in 1936:

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace — business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering…. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob…. [These forces] are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.

So the “old enemies” are with us again, but what Democrat now faces them with Roosevelt’s defiance? Only the Occupy movement has that courage.

And Dwight David Eisenhower, writing to his brother in 1952:

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H.L.Hunt…, a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

What’s terrifying about this is how Eisenhower’s party in just a few decades has proved him wrong, wrong in everything he says except, possibly, the last word.

Reading.

I wanted a novel to read at night in bed (when too dim-brained to follow an argument I still can follow a story) — so I went to my To Read shelf.

It’s low on novels just now. I tried the one Tove Jansson I hadn’t yet read, Fair Play. I wanted to like it but found it predictable, and written with a kind of smugness or self-admiration that put me off, so I gave up. This doesn’t weaken my admiration for the madly original Moomintroll books, or her beautiful novel True Deceiver (my review of it is on this site among the Book Reviews.)

So I started the one Kent Haruf I haven’t yet read, Where You Once Belonged. Am about halfway through now. Haruf is terrific. Very quietly great. (The critical/prize-awarding people have, predictably, paid him little attention — an ABA runner-up for Plainsong, which should have walked off with the Pulitzer.) The two early books are so solid and beautiful, and Plainsong fully comparable to the best of Willa Cather (to whom I’m sure he’s tired of being compared, but if you write about the Western Middle West, you can’t get away from Willa.) Here are his four books:

  • The Tie that Binds, 1984
  • Where You Once Belonged, 1990
  • Plainsong, 1999
  • Eventide, 2004

It’s time for another, please, Mr Haruf?

(Half)Seen

We finally had to get onto Netflix when our lovely video store down the street got killed by Netflix. I hate this. I HATE it. I HATE being controlled by corporations. I HATE CORPORATIONS.

O.K.

So, last night we had Syriana. We gave up halfway through.

Probably we were just too tired and stupid for a fast-paced complex thriller. I found the cutting self-conscious to the point of self-parody — scene after scene a few seconds long, then cut — cut — cut again — Makes for fast pace, sure, but it’s too much like two hours of Tourette syndrome. And it intellectualizes the story. Shock without affect. Time only to figure out what’s happening where — never why, hardly even who. Allatime you’re figuring out. Well, I don’t watch movies to figure out. I don’t enjoy it. So, Syriana goes back.

Read

Finished Krugman’s Conscience of a Liberal. It was written just before the housing market crash and the rise of Obama to the Presidency. Reactionary “movement Republicanism” has gone fast and far since then, belying much of Krugman’s hopes expressed in the last section. It is, however, a very good, very useful book, an aid to clear thinking.

A final quote from it (guess who said this, and when):

The strange alchemy of time has converted the Democrats into the truly conservative party in the country — the party dedicated to conserving all that is best and building solidly and safely on these foundations. The Republicans, by contrast, are behaving like the radical party — the party of the reckless and embittered, bent on dismantling institutions which have been built solidly into our social fabric.

The first election I could vote in was 1952. I don’t forgive Eisenhower for defeating my candidate. Though Ike was a moderate with no ideological program, yet I think with his election our long trip to the wilderness of reactionary thinking began. Adlai Stevenson, who knew what true conservatism is, lost. And now we live with the regressive fantasies of “the party of the reckless and embittered.”

— UKL

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See Ursula K. Le Guin’s ebooks in the Book View Café eBookstore.

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Comments

Reading, Seeing (i) — 10 Comments

  1. As for “Fair Play”, I browsed through its English translation some time ago and realized that I already know some parts of it. Then I felt that I definitely liked them more when I read them several years ago (in Polish translation, as a part of a larger collection of Jansson’s selected stories), and thus I blamed my poor understanding of English in the first place, even though Kingsley Hart has done a great job. But upon re-thinking I guess there was another reason: there, in the Polish translation, the stories were mixed with other stuff which included in particular openly autobiographic, perhaps deceptively, very touching “Correspondence”. At that time I did not have any idea that Mari and Jonna may have something to do with Tove Jansson’s private life (meaning: more than what any character appearing in a story has in common with the story’s author; this is how I understood “Wladyslaw”). Perhaps this is what spoils the English version of “Fair Play” a bit – that the reference to Jansson-Pietila relation is made too ostentatious. It seems to me that Jansson herself cared a lot about such details; I wonder whether she would approve of the book’s design, with all those cover photographs.

  2. Correction: it was Thomas Teal who translated “Fair Play” (and “True Deceiver”), not Kingsley Hart (she translated many of Jansson’s other books). Sorry for the mistake, I should not have trusted my memory.

  3. ‘ “The Republicans, by contrast, are behaving like the radical party — the party of the reckless and embittered, bent on dismantling institutions which have been built solidly into our social fabric.”

    The first election I could vote in was 1952. I don’t forgive Eisenhower for defeating my candidate. Though Ike was a moderate with no ideological program, yet I think with his election our long trip to the wilderness of reactionary thinking began. Adlai Stevenson, who knew what true conservatism is, lost. And now we live with the regressive fantasies of “the party of the reckless and embittered.” ‘

    My goodness, Krugman might as well be describing the past forty years of British politics! As I sit here, the best of our institutions are being dismantled by right-wing ideologues, and social and economic inequalities deepen. Most of the Great British Public have once again bought the TINA line (There Is No Alternative; copyright M. Thatcher).

    Syriana: I’m glad it’s not just me. I felt stupid!

  4. Netflix mail rental alternatives:
    Public libraries: Many lend DVDs for a week and have good selections, but usually 6 months after initial release.

    Greencine:
    Still a company, not a local business. But it’s not Netflix and it has a larger selection of indie, “foreign”, and documentary films.
    http://www.greencine.com/

  5. Dear Ursula,

    I’m going for the “Greatest mismatch between post and comment” award here, but I want to ask you something in your capacity as wise woman, because sad to say I don’t have any comparably wise women in my circle of personal acquaintances. (I suspect they are pretty few and far between, actually.)

    Not long ago I read “Always Coming Home”. There was a good line somewhere in there about a young girl of 10 or so entering her “clear water years”, and her mother asking her what she really wanted to do with the great years between then and puberty.

    Well, that struck a chord with me because my own elder daughter is 8 1/2. And she has recently been asking questions about getting a “first communion”. We’re non-religious (if you want to know, I’m an atheist-anarchist-Taoist with animist coming up fast on the inside) and not at all keen on churches. But it seems like she’s reaching out for some kind of ritual for celebrating an important passage from “little” to “big” that is missing from our culture. (Actually we live in a mainly Catholic country, so I should say, missing presumed kidnapped.)

    Well, I always believe in going straight to the top (I would say, the horse’s mouth, but that wouldn’t be very complimentary, would it?), and so I’m asking you about rites and rituals to replace a “first communion”. Any leads?

    many thanks

    Robert

  6. Dear Ursula,

    Thank you for the commendation of Haruf’s works. I went straight to the library and checked out Plainsong and Eventide, and am no most of the way through the first. What a delight! It strikes me that a description of his writing would also largely apply to yours. It is spare, austere, unadorned and it derives incredible power from these qualities. I will certainly read more of him. Thank you for the suggestion, and I look forward to more posts about what you’re reading or watching.

    warmly,

    Kate

  7. Dear Ms Le Guin,
    Reading this when reading “the man from beijing” by Henning mankell I ordered the two Kent Haruf’s french translated books I found available, Plainsong and Where you once belonged. I finished to read Plainsong to day, in the train back from the First of May union demonstration. I will never thank you enough for this. The terrific strength of Haruf’s “simple” song after mankell’s embrace of the world and more than the century was amazing. A wok so different of yours and so close. Instead of the lonely Lavinia’s voice the true plainsong of living people.
    Thank you
    regarrds
    Dominique

  8. @Robert

    Just to make your comment more matching – Tove Jansson wrote a pretty short story “The spring tune” on a related subject. Yes, you can find it in the Internet, as almost everything these days (although I am not sure whether it is there legally, so I will refrain from providing an explicit link).

  9. Another economist you might enjoy is Elinor Ostrom whose work has been on the commons and common pool resources. She won a Nobel a couple of years ago but even Krugman is not all that familiar with her work. Her work, of course, is essential in solving global environmental problems like greenhouse gases, deforestation, overfishing, and such. If you don’t know her writings, you definitely should.