Current Top Picks – N° 5
Society & Culture
This article emerged at the beginning of August due to Toni Morrison's passing just this week. Morrison was a renowned author and the first Afroamerican to win a Nobel prize in Literature which she was awarded for her famous and highly praised novel "Beloved", published in 1987.
The New Yorker piece named above, which she wrote back in 2017, has nothing to do with her career as a writer but rather tells a story from her youth days when Morrison worked as a house maid for a well-off lady in order to support her own family financially. The story holds a beautiful, universal wisdom which she gained through a conversation with her father on the relationship between work and self-worth in her moments of struggle as a young, inexperienced girl trying to make ends meet.
As relevant today as ever, it is written with elegance and clarity and touches on the difficult trade-off between the personal freedom money can provide (especially for people coming from a low-income household) paired with the pride and status a professional occupation often lends, too, and the seemingly inevitable consequence of being at an employer's mercy. Within few lines she demonstrates how personal well-being can quickly be diminished if boundaries are not clearly established and basic human rights are either not identified or are willingly neglected, and the crucial role our personal relations – especially our families – play in grounding us in regards to the necessary care we have to take of ourselves.
"You are not the work you do; you are the person you are."
– Toni Morrison for The New Yorker, 2017
Contributing author Nicole Rudick shares her perspective on what she considers one of the best comic strip series of our time, the world famous Peanuts series created by Charles Schulz. For me as a non-native speaker her article was quite the challenge at times since she uses highly sophisticated language which contains a variety of unfamiliar vocabulary. Her writing style is mere proof of her talent as a critic, which gifts readers (especially non-native English speakers) an ideal tool to enhance their vocabulary and gain inspiration for their own writing style.
First and foremost, Rudick's piece is a lovely and unapologetic ode to the Peanuts series (as well as few other comics she mentions as she draws comparisons) for all its philosophical complexity paired with Schulz' special care for minutiae. As a fan of Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes and other philosophical-/sociological-/food-for-thought-based comics and satires who dare to ponder the big and small questions around humanity, existential matters and the incomprehensible, this was a wonderful reminder of all the great works that Schulz and his peers have left behind.
Politics & Activism
The New York Times; 8/2/19: "The Problem With Greta Thunberg's Climate Activism" (by Christopher Caldwell)
Climate Change ranks among the most talked and written about issues of the past few weeks in Western societies, with the famous Fridays for Future movement drastically gaining more fame and momentum as well as accelerating alarming voices emerging in light of the the latest report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in early August covering the detrimental effect of human land management on the stark increase in the global average temperature.
Christopher Caldwell's op-ed carries a sarcastic yet comparably subtle critical tone directed towards climate activists and their global "leader" (informal but universally recognized as such), Greta Thunberg. The readers' comments both in the side section of the online version of the article and on twitter were destructive, merciless at times, addressed to both Caldwell himself and the NYT for publishing such an outrageous piece and giving a voice to this "patronizing climate change denier", as it seems.
For the majority, the comments point out his personal remarks about Thunberg as bullying attacks, as his way of trying to degrade her with the lowest form of critique, by clearly aiming below the belt as a means to discredit her in her courageous, noble task of bringing awareness to what seems to be the most alerting and haunting threat to our species to date.
Caldwell's concluding point and main argument of his article, as I understand it, is that in all of the activists' fury and urgency there still needs to be a sense of calm- and collectedness, an alert eye which guards our most basic principles of democracy which we have come to treasure throughout centuries of societal evolution. As he writes, "Patience may be democracy's cardinal virtue.", which probably was the straw that broke readers' back, for the majority of them furiously cited this phrase in their responding short essays.
While I understand most readers' point that there is, in fact, no more time to hesitate and wait for politicians and world leaders to set concrete policies and actions in place, I also appreciate his contrasting view of taking into account societal, political and economic orders which are highly vulnerable to extremist and populist views, often fueled by a sense of dread, emergency and human basic fears. As the summer is slowly coming to an end in most regions of the Northwestern hemisphere, this might be a good time to pause and keep a level head amidst all alarming news and reoccurring chaos in the world. Time is ticking, but panicking and exercising intransigent moral righteousness has rarely served anyone that depended on rational decision-making oriented towards sustainability and peaceful world order.
Journalism & Media
Columbia Journalism Review; 8/6/19: "Ruth Reichl on 40 years in food journalism–and what's missing from Instagram restaurant pics" (by Tyler Coates)
This interview with renowned food critic and editor Ruth Reichl covers a genre that seems to be rather forgotten by a majority of the public and even within the niche of journalistic critique – that is, food journalism. The dialogue covers various aspects of Reichl's career, how she developed into becoming a food critique without originally aspiring to, the role food has played in her life and her view on print media as well as the future of quality journalism in the digital age. She shares insights on how today's journalists – whether covering food and restaurant businesses or more generally considering themselves as critics – can distinguish themselves among the vast body of content floating around due to the drastic emergence of social media coverage.