Opinion | Salman Rushdie: Ask Yourself Which Books You Truly Love – The New York Times

Mr. Rushdie is a novelist and an essayist.

“Before there were books, there were stories. At first the stories weren’t written down. Sometimes they were even sung. Children were born, and before they could speak, their parents sang them songs, a song about an egg that fell off a wall, perhaps, or about a boy and a girl who went up a hill and fell down it. As the children grew older, they asked for stories almost as often as they asked for food.

The children fell in love with these stories and wanted to hear them over and over again. Then they grew older and found those stories in books. And other stories that they had never heard before, about a girl who fell down a rabbit hole, or a silly old bear and an easily scared piglet and a gloomy donkey, or a phantom tollbooth, or a place where wild things were. The act of falling in love with stories awakened something in the children that would nourish them all their lives: their imagination.

The children made up play stories every day, they stormed castles and conquered nations and sailed the oceans blue, and at night their dreams were full of dragons. But they went on growing up and slowly the stories fell away from them, the stories were packed away in boxes in the attic, and it became harder for the former children to tell and receive stories, harder for them, sadly, to fall in love.

I believe that the books and stories we fall in love with make us who we are, or, not to claim too much, the beloved tale becomes a part of the way in which we understand things and make judgments and choices in our daily lives. A book may cease to speak to us as we grow older, and our feeling for it will fade. Or we may suddenly, as our lives shape and hopefully increase our understanding, be able to appreciate a book we dismissed earlier; we may suddenly be able to hear its music, to be enraptured by its song.

When, as a college student, I first read Günter Grass’s great novel “The Tin Drum,” I was unable to finish it. It languished on a shelf for fully 10 years before I gave it a second chance, whereupon it became one of my favorite novels of all time: one of the books I would say that I love. It is an interesting question to ask oneself: Which are the books that you truly love? Try it. The answer will tell you a lot about who you presently are.

 
 
Credit…Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

I grew up in Bombay, India, a city that is no longer, today, at all like the city it once was and has even changed its name to the much less euphonious Mumbai, in a time so unlike the present that it feels impossibly remote, even fantastic. In that far-off Bombay, the stories and books that reached me from the West seemed like true tales of wonder.

Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” with its splinters of magic mirror that entered people’s bloodstreams and turned their hearts to ice, was even more terrifying to a boy from the tropics, where the only ice was in the refrigerator. “The Emperor’s New Clothes” felt especially enjoyable to a boy growing up in the immediate aftermath of the British Empire.

Perhaps tales of elsewhere always feel like fairy tales. But for me, the real wonder tales were closer to home, and I have always thought it my great good fortune as a writer to have grown up steeped in them.    . . .”

” . . . The fantastic is neither innocent nor escapist. The wonderland is not a place of refuge, not even necessarily an attractive or likable place. It can be — in fact, it usually is — a place of slaughter, exploitation, cruelty and fear. Captain Hook wants to kill Peter Pan. The witch in the Black Forest wants to cook Hansel and Gretel. The wolf actually eats Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. Albus Dumbledore is murdered, and the Lord of the Rings plans the enslavement of the whole of Middle-earth.

We know, when we hear these tales, that even though they are “unreal,” because carpets do not fly and witches in gingerbread houses do not exist, they are also “real,” because they are about real things: love, hatred, fear, power, bravery, cowardice, death. They simply arrive at the real by a different route. They are so, even though we know that they are not so. The truth is not arrived at by purely mimetic means. An image can be captured by a camera or by a paintbrush. A painting of a starry night is no less truthful than a photograph of one; arguably, if the painter is Van Gogh, it’s far more truthful, even though far less “realistic.”

The literature of the fantastic — the wonder tale, the fable, the folk tale, the magic-realist novel — has always embodied profound truths about human beings, their finest attributes and their deepest prejudices too. The wonder tale tells us truths about ourselves that are often unpalatable; it exposes bigotry, explores the libido, brings our deepest fears to light. Such stories are by no means intended simply for the amusement of children, and many of them were not originally intended for children at all. Sinbad the Sailor and Aladdin were not Disney characters when they started out on their journeys.

It is, however, a rich age in literature for children and young-hearted adults. From Maurice Sendak’s place “Where the Wild Things Are” to Philip Pullman’s post-religious otherworlds, from Narnia, which we reach through a wardrobe, to the strange worlds arrived at through a phantom tollbooth, from Hogwarts to Middle-earth, wonderland is alive and well. And in many of these adventures, it is children who grow into heroes, often to rescue the adult world; the children we were, the children who are still within us, the children who understand wonderland, who know the truth about stories, save the adults, who have forgotten those truths.” -30-

Language Log » “Mulan” is a masculine, non-Sinitic name

“She left the house and met her messmates on the road;

Her messmates were startled out of their wits.

They had marched with her for twelve years of war

And never known that Mulan was a girl.

Thus, Mulan fought as a man, not as a woman.  Her fellow soldiers had no idea that she was a woman.  This is not so strange as you may think.  Indeed, it is a common trope in Chinese popular literature for a woman to assume the guise of a man in order to accomplish feats that her natural gender would have denied her, such as standing in as a conscripted soldier for her ailing or elderly father.  Even more interesting, women were not permitted to take the examinations to become scholars or officials, so some girls disguised themselves as men to study the classics and sit for the civil service exams.  There are quite a few funny scenes where the male fellow students of a girl disguised as one of them are perplexed by her toilet habits.  Naturally, there are also many touching love stories that develop out of such situations, but only after many years of gender ruse and “they triumphs“.  . . . ”

Source: Language Log » “Mulan” is a masculine, non-Sinitic name

Opinion | Salman Rushdie: Ask Yourself Which Books You Truly Love – The New York Times

Mr. Rushdie is a novelist and an essayist.

“Before there were books, there were stories. At first the stories weren’t written down. Sometimes they were even sung. Children were born, and before they could speak, their parents sang them songs, a song about an egg that fell off a wall, perhaps, or about a boy and a girl who went up a hill and fell down it. As the children grew older, they asked for stories almost as often as they asked for food.

The children fell in love with these stories and wanted to hear them over and over again. Then they grew older and found those stories in books. And other stories that they had never heard before, about a girl who fell down a rabbit hole, or a silly old bear and an easily scared piglet and a gloomy donkey, or a phantom tollbooth, or a place where wild things were. The act of falling in love with stories awakened something in the children that would nourish them all their lives: their imagination.

The children made up play stories every day, they stormed castles and conquered nations and sailed the oceans blue, and at night their dreams were full of dragons. But they went on growing up and slowly the stories fell away from them, the stories were packed away in boxes in the attic, and it became harder for the former children to tell and receive stories, harder for them, sadly, to fall in love.

I believe that the books and stories we fall in love with make us who we are, or, not to claim too much, the beloved tale becomes a part of the way in which we understand things and make judgments and choices in our daily lives. A book may cease to speak to us as we grow older, and our feeling for it will fade. Or we may suddenly, as our lives shape and hopefully increase our understanding, be able to appreciate a book we dismissed earlier; we may suddenly be able to hear its music, to be enraptured by its song.   . . . “

Inherit the Wind movie review (1960) | Roger Ebert

“History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

This statement by Karl Marx admirably serves two functions: (1) It describes the difference between the two times the teaching of Darwin’s theories were put on trial in this country, in Tennessee in 1925 and in Pennsylvania in 2005; (2) Because it is from Karl Marx, it will automatically be rejected, along with the words to follow, by those who judge a statement not by its content but by its source. That is precisely the argument between Darwinism and creationism. Stanley Kramer‘s “Inherit the Wind” (1960) is a movie about a courtroom battle between those who believe the Bible is literally true and those who believe, as the Spencer Tracy character puts it, that “an idea is a greater monument than a cathedral.”

The so-called Monkey Trial of 1925 put a young high school teacher named John T. Scopes on trial for violating a state law, passed the same year, prohibiting the teaching of any theory that denied the biblical account of divine creation. Darwin’s theory of evolution was also therefore on trial. Two of the most famous lawyers and orators in the land contested the case. Scopes was defended by the legendary Clarence Darrow, and the prosecution was led by three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. Darrow’s expenses were paid by the Baltimore Sun papers, home of the famed journalist H.L. Mencken, who covered the trial with many snorts and guffaws.

In Kramer’s film, Darrow becomes Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy), Bryan is Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March), Mencken is E.K. Hornbeck (Gene Kelly), and Scopes is Bertram T. Cates (Dick York). Another major player is the gravel-voiced Harry Morgan, as the judge. So obviously were the characters based on their historical sources that the back of the DVD simply refers to them as “Bryan” and “Darrow,” as if their names had not been changed.  . . . “

Source: Inherit the Wind movie review (1960) | Roger Ebert

Kathleen and I saw the 1960 movie Inherit the Wind on Saturday night, and were enthralled and moved. I was sure that some of the vital exchanges in the courtroom probably happened, but did the good, god-fearing people of Hillsboro really march while singing about lynching Clarence Darrow and the local school teacher Scopes. Apparently, that was all made up by the propagandist, Stanley Kramer. I’m sorry he made those lies, because he didn’t need them. His inaccuracies diminish the underlying truth of his brilliant work.

From Wikipedia:

“Historical inaccuracies[edit]

Being mostly faithful to the play, the film engages in literary license with the facts and should not be relied upon as a historical document. For example, Scopes (Bertram Cates) is shown being arrested in class, thrown in jail, burned in effigy, and taunted by a fire-snorting preacher. William Jennings Bryan (Matthew Harrison Brady) is portrayed as an almost comical fanatic who dramatically dies of a “busted belly” while attempting to deliver his summation in a chaotic courtroom. The townspeople are shown as frenzied, mean-spirited, and ignorant. None of that happened in Dayton during the actual trial. This is because the story is an allegory for McCarthyism.[12]

Because the judge ruled that scientific evidence was inadmissible, a ruling which the movie depicted, Darrow called Bryan as his only witness and attempted to humiliate him by asking Bryan to interpret Scripture. When Darrow, in his closing remarks, called upon the jury to find Scopes guilty so that he could appeal the verdict, Bryan was kept from delivering his own summation. The guilty verdict was overturned two years later.[13] Bryan suffered a heart attack and died in his sleep five days after the trial ended.[14]

Biden Endorses Filibuster Rule Changes – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — The fight over the Senate filibuster escalated sharply on Tuesday, as President Biden for the first time threw his weight behind changing the rules even as Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, threatened harsh reprisals if Democrats moved to weaken the procedural tactic.

In an interview with ABC News, Mr. Biden gave his most direct endorsement yet of overhauling the filibuster, saying that he favored a return to what is called the talking filibuster: the requirement that opponents of legislation occupy the floor and make their case against it.

“I don’t think that you have to eliminate the filibuster; you have to do it, what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days,” the president said. “You had to stand up and command the floor, and you had to keep talking.” The comments were a significant departure for Mr. Biden, a 36-year veteran of the Senate who has been frequently described by aides as reluctant to alter Senate procedure.

“It’s getting to the point where, you know, democracy is having a hard time functioning,” he added.”

Great reporting by Carl Hulse, followed by great comments. Enough with the namby pamby.

Where on earth did I get namby pamby, probably from my famously outspoken mother.

And it is real expression, says Wikipedia: ”

Namby-pamby is a term for affected, weak, and maudlin speech/verse. It originates from Namby Pamby (1725) by Henry Carey.

Carey wrote his poem as a satire of Ambrose Philips and published it in his Poems on Several Occasions. Its first publication was Namby Pamby: or, a panegyrick on the new versification address’d to A—– P—-, where the A– P– implicated Ambrose Philips. Philips had written a series of odes in a new prosody of seven-syllable lines and dedicated it to “all ages and characters, from Walpole steerer of the realm, to Miss Pulteney in the nursery.” This 3.5′ line became a matter of consternation for more conservative poets, and a matter of mirth for Carey. Carey adopts Philips’s choppy line-form for his parody and latches onto the dedication to nurseries to create an apparent nursery rhyme that is, in fact, a grand bit of nonsense and satire mixed.

Philips was a figure who had become politically active and was a darling of the Whig party. He was also a target of the Tory satirists. Alexander Pope had criticized Philips repeatedly (in The Guardian and in his Peri Bathos, among other places), and praising or condemning Philips was a political as much as poetic matter in the 1720s, with the nickname also employed by John Gay and Jonathan Swift.

The poem begins with a mock-epic opening (as had Pope’s Rape of the Lock and as had Dryden’s MacFlecknoe), calling all the muses to witness the glory of Philips’s prosodic reform:

“All ye Poets of the Age!
All ye Witlings of the Stage!
Learn your Jingles to reform!
Crop your Numbers and Conform:
Let your little Verses flow
Gently, Sweetly, Row by Row:
Let the Verse the Subject fit;
Little Subject, Little Wit.
Namby-Pamby is your Guide;
Albion’s Joy, Hibernia’s Pride.”

Opinion | The Afghan War Is Over. Did Anyone Notice? – By Elliot Ackerman – The New York Times

Mr. Ackerman is a former Marine and intelligence officer who served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Credit…John Moore/Getty Images

“I first read “The Iliad” in high school. The translation my teacher handed out had a single photograph on the cover: American G.I.s on D-Day storming out of a landing craft onto Omaha Beach.

The subtext of this pairing wasn’t obvious to me, as a teenager. The rage of Achilles, the death of Hector and all those Greeks in their “black-hulled ships” seemed to have little to do with the Second World War.

Many years later, after having fought in two wars of my own, that image has come to resonate in a new way. If “The Iliad” served as an ur-text for the shape the ancient Greeks assumed their wars to take (Alexander the Great, for example, is said to have slept with a copy beneath his pillow when on campaign), then World War II has served a similar function in our society, framing our expectations of war, becoming our American Iliad. We still expect to be the good guys; we expect there to be a beginning, a middle and an end; and we expect that the war is over when the troops come home.

But that final expectation — that a war is only over when all the troops come home — has never really held true, not in World War II, and not today.”

Great books – Wikipedia

Great books are written publications that have been accepted by modern day scholars as the essential foundation of literature in Western culture. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines them as certain classics of literature, philosophy, history, and science that are believed to contain the basic ideas of western culture. Over the years it has become customary for institutes of higher education to incorporate these readings into their curriculum.“The reason for the study of these classical texts is to both allow and encourage students to become familiar with some of the most revered  authors throughout history. This helps to ensure that students and newly found scholars are equipped with a plethora of resources to utilize throughout their studies.

The great books are used in conjunction with literary classes in higher education courses, but are often taught in separate subcategories designed for the tone of the intended learning environment. Mortimer Adler used 500 books, out of the list of 517 books within the conglomeration of mixed titles, to teach his pupils expanded literary knowledge past that of their current generation. While Adler stuck to the original list, with a few differences to some novels, many chose to omit many of these titles in order to suit an undergraduate class semester by allowing for only 130 books, such as Torrey Honors Institute.[1] For more thorough literary criticisms, people such as Harold Bloom have comprised lists of volumes including up to 2400 books of differing natures.(2,400 books, Harold Bloom)[2]

Source: Great books – Wikipedia

Opinion | The Global War on Books, Redux – By Duncan White – The New York Times

By 

Mr. White teaches history and literature at Harvard.

CreditCreditIllustration by Delcan & Company; Photographs by Steven Errico/Getty Images, and CUTWORLD

“Around the world, many authoritarian regimes — having largely corralled the internet — now have declared war on the written world, their oldest enemy. The received wisdom after the close of the Cold War was that physical books were outdated, soon to be swept aside in the digital age; and that the internet was instead the real threat to governments seeking to repress provocative thinking. A generation later, the opposite may be true.

The People’s Republic of China has been the most successful in curbing the internet. But their stranglehold on society is also the result of their largely successful push in the past decade to ban nearly all bookstores, books, authors and academics that do not adhere to the Communist Party’s line. Even before the current Hong Kong protests, there was a crackdown on Hong Kong publishers. In the fall of 2015, associates of the Causeway Bay Books store disappeared, later discovered to have been detained on the mainland, accused of trafficking in “illegal” books critiquing leading members of the Communist Party. In 2017, the Communist Party formally took control of all print media, including books.”

Babette’s Feast — The General’s Toast — Mercy and truth have met together – YouTube

Last night we watched the movie Babette”s Feast, based on a short story by Isak Dinesen. Extraordinary Movie. Very spiritual, but not necessarily a realistic story. A beautiful thought piece. Now I really want to know which part Elly Lindsay had in the theatrical version recently played in Dallas, The soldier, who becomes the heart broken suitor, becomes a successful general, and gives this toast at the end of the feast, while the woman who refused him 40 or so years earlier looks on:

“Mercy and truth have met together.

Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another.
Man, in his weakness and shortsightedness…
believes he must make choices in this life.
He trembles at the risks he takes.
We do know fear.
But no.
Our choice is of no importance.
There comes a time when your eyes are opened.
And we come to realize…
that mercy is infinite.
We need only await it with confidence…
and receive it with gratitude.
Mercy imposes no conditions.
And, lo!
Everything we have chosen…
has been granted to us.
And everything…
we rejected…
has also been granted.
Yes, we even get back what we rejected.
For mercy and truth are met together.
And righteousness and bliss…
shall kiss one another.”

++++++++++
Babette’s Feast (1987)
“Babettes gæstebud” (original title)
Director: Gabriel Axel
General Lorens Löwenhielm: Jarl Kulle
++++++++++
“Perhaps it is a desecration to take this scene out of context, but it is so wonderful in context that it shall be risked. The General has just enjoyed the rarest of meals in the most unlikely of places. He makes an after dinner speech that is more of a sermon and prayer.” – Youtube blogger named Straussian.

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Opinion | My Father- Out to Sea – By Jaed Coffin – The New York Times

By Jaed Coffin

Mr. Coffin is a writer.

CreditIleana Soon

“For as long as I can remember, my father’s favorite expression has always been “out to sea.” As in, “Well, I used to see that guy around, but then he got divorced, quit his job, and he just went out to sea.” Like many of my father’s expressions, “out to sea” is based on a vague and maybe misunderstood historical allusion; in this case, to the original men of Nantucket, who, my father claims, are my direct male ancestors. These brave souls would regularly leave their families for years on end, to slaughter sperm whales in distant oceans thousands of miles from home. “That’s just how it was back then,” my father often told me, in a whimsical tone laced with longing and nostalgia. “The men in our family, they just went out to sea.”

I’ve never been to Nantucket, and, raised by my single Thai mother, have never had much interest in my father’s heritage. But as a boy, something about my father’s use of the expression “out to sea” always intrigued me. For my father, going “out to sea” carried a mystical connotation, charged with rebellion and renunciation. Men (always men) seemed to reach a point in their lives when the burdens of domestic life — spouse, kids, job, community, whatever — grew too heavy, and the only path to spiritual freedom required that we drift into the mists of existence, never to be seen again.

We make strange heroes out of those who go “out to sea”: Don Draper is one of the newest members of the club. Jack Nicholson’s character in “Five Easy Pieces” (one of my father’s favorite movies), who abandons his girlfriend at a gas station by hitching a ride to Alaska in a logging truck, definitely belongs, too. Even Siddhartha Gautama, auspicious figure of my faith, who left behind his newborn son “Rahula” (Pali for “shackle”) for a life of meditation in the forest, might be the most famous man to ever go “out to sea.” How can I argue with the Buddha?

But my affection for men who go “out to sea” gets complicated when I locate it within the context of my relationship with my father, who met my mother on a military base during the Vietnam War. After the war, my parents came back to the United States, to New England, to start a family. Shortly after I was born, my father got involved with another woman, an American woman, wandered around for a few years, then moved in with her and her five children in Vermont. This left my mother, who worked the night shift as a psychiatric nurse at the local hospital, to raise my older sister and me on her own back in Maine. Throughout my boyhood, it never occurred to me how carefully my mother — who’d been raised in a stilt house, in a dusty village in Central Thailand — had to both scrutinize and adopt the strange customs of New England culture, how learning to navigate these foreign waters became, by necessity, the great project of her adult life.”