I finished Ducks, Newburyport. I started in September 2019 and finished today, four months later. It’s a singular, unique, and amazing work that shows a whole human being in the right now.
I’ve never read a novel that so accurately depicted the sensation of living in an environment where every day brings fresh horrors that don’t directly impinge on our lives, even as they gnaw at our well-being. More powerfully still, I’ve read nothing that so thoroughly acknowledges the toxic mix of guilt and dread that is the bassline of life in Western society amid a climate change disaster that our every action exacerbates.Thinking Through the Clutter, a book review by Levi Stahl
I’ve never read anything like it. A lot of the time when I began reading it on a given day, I would get overwhelmed in the way the narrator felt overwhelmed, which is why I think it took me four months to read. I read other things during that time, too, because too much of it, especially in one sitting, felt like too much. But there are some passages where twenty pages will go by and you will feel sucked completely out of time and into the narrator’s head.
I have said elsewhere reading Ducks, Newburyport was a restorative, even a reparative experience. I felt healthier for reading it. Each night, incrementally, it was making me better. And it might be because of this I am not really fit to make any grand claims for it: masterpiece, miracle, genius etc., although I am certain it is all these things. What I will say, however, is that like other great works of art, I believe when we reflect back on Ducks, Newburyport we will think it strange that the world once existed without it. This is one definition of timelessness. Not so much that a work of art is perennially relevant, but that we feel it has always been with us, somehow in its newness we recognise it. This is why I picked it up on that Saturday morning, weary and depressed as I was: it was already part of me.What we have is a person, a book review by Neil Griffiths
The book deals with a lot of contemporary anxieties, which means it can induce those anxieties by bringing them up. Of particular significance is the amount of attention paid to gun violence. The narrator is in the midwest, and her anxieties over open carry, 2nd amendment people, and the entire narrative of individualized libertarian responsibility for defense is an anxiety I share and think about a lot. Another way of saying this is that if you also feel these anxieties, this will make you feel both saner as you see them reflected in such a fleshed-out person and more anxious as it becomes the subject of the narrator’s thoughts as we follow them.
If you are at all interested in reading this book, I’d recommend you to read it sooner rather than later, as it will feel different reading it in ten years than it will now. But it will be an important and relevant book forevermore.
Let the record show that the American Dream is so many nightmares that some Americans dream of death for comfort; and what are we doing to make it better? The profiles that paint this man’s life as some kind of literary fairy tale marred only by the political climate, are lies. Gay and Black and famous and beautiful and walking over the edge every day, James Baldwin longed to leave this world as much as he worked to save it from evils like race prejudice, homophobia, capitalism and imperialism—let the myth of the jovial cultural servant die at last, that he may live.Preface to James Baldwin’s Unwritten Suicide Note
Content warning for suicide. This article is powerful.
(Photograph by Allen Warren.)
We struggle to be just. For we cannot help feel at least a sympathetic pain before the sheer labor, discipline and patient craftsmanship that went to making this mountain of words. But the words keep shouting us down. In the end that tone dominates. But it should be its own antidote, warning us that anything it shouts is best taken with the usual reservations with which we might sip a patent medicine. Some may like the flavor. In any case, the brew is probably without lasting ill effects. But it is not a cure for anything. Nor would we, ordinarily, place much confidence in the diagnosis of a doctor who supposes that the Hippocratic Oath is a kind of curse.Whittaker Chambers 1957 Review of Ayn Rand
This is good. While of the evaluative phrases are sexist (e.g, “shrill”), this review cuts to the quick of her project. Thanks to Phil Christman for sharing it.
As a teenager I read a lot of Ayn Rand’s work. I agree with The Relentless Picnic’s diagnosis that she appeals, like Strauss’ neoconservatism, to the kind of person: “You feel inferior, told you should be equal, but your emotional response says ‘I’m superior.'” [at 21m 25s]. That was me around that time, dripping in unrecognized privilege. It took a lot of exposure to a lot of different ideas from a lot of different people to bring the recognition.
The need to unpack our power and privilege in moments of pain and hurt is counterintuitive to most of us. We rightly want to sit in the pain of being targeted. But holding our own pain cannot come at the expense of obscuring the machinations of power that keep us safe even as we are Othered. And when we inevitably turn to the legal system for redress for our pain, we must there too recognize how we are serving a system that is designed to benefit us as white people.“To My Fellow White Others” by Chase Strangio
This is required reading. This will be in history books.