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This Week's Reading

What We’re Loving: NASCAR, Nukes, Nobility

February 21, 2014 | by

thermonuclear

From the cover of Elaine Scarry’s Thermonuclear Monarchy.

When I discovered the work of Elaine Scarry in college, I remember thinking that her name was somehow bound up in her field of study—one had informed the other. She has a new book out, and the connection has never seemed more apt. Thermonuclear Monarchy is a badass title and a frightening one. The book is 640 pages, so I haven’t read it—it could be a while before I have that much time—but I have been reading about it. Nathan Schneider’s essay at The Chronicle of Higher Education is the best read. Scarry is a broad thinker, pulling from unusual corners of politics, history, and culture (including, Schneider notes, “the town where [Thomas] Hobbes grew up, a mistranslation of the Iliad, marriage, CPR, the Swiss nuclear-shelter system”). Thermonuclear Monarchy, then, is “less an argument that nuclear weapons should be eliminated, or how, than an entire worldview in which they have no rightful place.” —Nicole Rudick

We all know him as The Paris Review’s trusty third baseman (“Wisdom” and “Chaos Mode” are but two of his on-the-field nicknames), but it turns out that Ben Wizner occasionally gets around to other things, too—such as serving as the legal advisor to, um, Edward Snowden. (Yeah, NBD.) Listen here as he and Daniel Ellsberg argue in favor of the motion “Edward Snowden Was Justified” in a debate against Andrew C. McCarthy and R. James Woolsey. (Really, listen—it’s riveting.) —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

Our forthcoming Art of Nonfiction interview with the British psychoanalyst and author Adam Phillips is full of literary reminiscences and references to books that have meant something to Phillips over the course of his life. One in particular has stuck with me over the past few weeks, a Randall Jarrell quote from “A Girl in a Library”: “The ways we miss our lives are life.” Happily, it has reminded me to return to Jarrell’s The Animal Family, which I started a few months ago and put down for no good reason. (I don’t even have the excuse of length—it’s a children’s chapter book). Through the simple story of a woodsman who gathers together members of various species—real and imagined—to form an unconventional family, Randall touches on death, love, the pain of being alone, the strangeness of taste, the joys of language, and the terrifying calm of the wilderness. It is a lesson in what plain words thoughtfully said can evoke, perhaps the best such lesson I’ve ever read in prose. My edition, and I think most others, includes beautiful Maurice Sendak illustrations that are, for Sendak, unusually pastoral—not a figural representation in the lot—and add much to Jarrell’s story. —Clare Fentress

NASCAR was incorporated on this day in 1948—exactly one hundred years after the first publication of The Communist Manifesto. (Would that their similarities didn’t end there.) On such a storied anniversary, an educated citizen has two duties. First, reread your Marx and Engels—now’s as good a time as any to hone your critique of capitalism. Second, visit—or revisit—the thrilling world of NASCAR romance novels. Bonus points if you’re somehow able to combine these pursuits, e.g., by writing a book that’s both a critique of capitalism and a NASCAR romance. —Dan Piepenbring

For no reason other than it was given to me, and I was taking a long flight, I’ve been reading Ivan Goncharev’s Oblomov, a nineteenth-century Russian novel that had heretofore eluded my grasp. The title character, who has been called “the laziest man in literature” and answers “No!” to Hamlet’s big question, is incapable of making any decision or taking any decisive action. His life and his attempts to get anything done become a satire of the Russian nobility of the day—but the novel will also comfort anyone who doesn’t feel like getting out of bed on a winter’s morning. That’s a serious philosophical affliction. —Anna Heyward

Sunday, despite the Bangles song, is most decidedly not my fun day. (Laundry! Litter box! Ineludible Monday!) But from eleven A.B. to twelve P.B. EST, I get to relax and tune in to the brilliant Alexandra Manglis on Cyprus’s online MyCyRadio. Manglis’s show, “Spinning Global Yarns,” weaves together international literature, music, and even archaeology, from Charlotte’s Web to Scheherazade, Beyonce to Yma Sumac, prehistoric Venus statuettes to ancient shipwrecks. If Sunday finds you out and about, you can listen to the recorded podcasts of that week’s show—Rachel Abramowitz

I grew up in Madras, India, notable for its dosas and for the images of politicians splayed on its every public wall. I think negative space might make Indians uncomfortable, so the walls are as crowded as the streets. The latest street art trend concerns Jayalalithaa, one of two politicians among between whom the state of Tamil Nadu has been tossed like a hot potato for the past three decades. Rumor has it Jayalalitha is a lesbian; urban legend says she once swallowed an entire cow. She’s a big-boned lady, and of late, her face is ubiquitous in street posters; her image can’t help but go unregulated. In other words, she was born to be Tumblr-ed, and now here she is, watching you. —Nikkitha Bakshani

 

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