imaginary outfit: summer reading


imaginary outfit: summer reading


I'd love to spend the last light hour of the day — an hour I often have to myself, since Sean gives Hugh his bath and puts him to bed — settled down in an Adirondack chair with a book, but as the sunlight fades, the mosquitos rise, and I am one of the lucky people who gets a giant, terrifying, horrendously itchy welt with every bite. Slathering myself in DEET and lighting a small conflagration of citronella candles to read outside for an hour daunts me, so I just imagine that one day the mosquitos will decide I taste terrible, and I will be able to enjoy a dusk-lit hour of reading in the backyard.

I was listening to a discussion about summer books on the radio this week, and the panelists were trying to decide what made a book a great summer read. For me, the real magic in summer reading has little to do with specific books; it is the dream of languorous mornings and afternoons with nothing to do but read. Visions of hammocks, deck chairs, beach towels, or tree-shaded lawns; sandy-bottomed tote bags with water-damaged paperbacks; chlorine smells and lake smells and sunbaked dirt smells, all mixed in book mustiness and sunblock — these are all lovely things, but time in abundance is the best. Time to be bored, to be hot and lazy, to feel like there is simply nothing else to do but curl up on the porch with a plate of Triscuits and a sweaty glass of wine and a stack of whatever has been languishing unread by the side of the bed.

This month, I've read The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead; Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey; and I have slowly been picking my way through The Rise and Fall of American Growth. I'm going to read Rings of Saturn for my Instagram book club, and then ... whatever is close to hand. Most of my reading gets done in what little time I can stay awake before bed (toddlers take it out of you); I do spend a lot of time reading to said toddler (and the books we read would be enough for another post). But the idea of summer reading beckons. I'm hoping I'll find an afternoon or two just to read before the summer ends.

'good to me'

[Alisdair] MacIntyre argued that Western civilization had lost its ability to think coherently about moral life. The problem was the Enlightenment, which put individuals in charge of deciding for themselves what was right and wrong. This, MacIntyre thought, rendered moral language meaningless. Try to say that something is “good,” and you end up saying only that it’s “good (to me)”—whatever that means. It becomes impossible to settle moral questions or to enforce moral rules; the best we can do is agree to disagree. Such a world falls into the hands of managers and technocrats, who excel at the perfection of means but lack the tools with which to think deeply about ends. Surviving this new age of darkness might call for the construction of local forms of community, where a realist approach to morality lives on.
Joshua Rothman, "Ron Dreher's Monastic Vision." The New Yorker, 5/1/2017.

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That piece also mentions Zygmunt Bauman and liquid modernity; and Václav Benda, which led me to Václav Havel and the parallel polis:

Active resistance is necessary because it is the moral and political indifference of demoralized, self-seeking citizens that normalizes despotic power. According to Havel, true escape from despotism requires 'living in truth,' which means not only refusing all participation in the regime of untruth but also rejecting all false refuge in the 'small pleasures of everyday life.' He insisted that the individual 'be bound to something higher, and capable of sacrificing something, in extreme cases even everything, of his banal, prosperous private life.'