June Reading:

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

“Racist ideas have done their job on us. We have a hard time recognizing that racial discrimination is the sole cause of racial disparities in this country and in the world at large. I write we for a reason … I held racist notions of Black inferiority before researching and writing this book. Racist ideas are ideas. Anyone can produce them or consume them … anyone can express the idea that Black people are inferior, that something is wrong with Black people. Anyone can believe both racist and antiracist ideas, that certain things are wrong with Black people and other things are equal. Fooled by racist ideas, I did not fully realize that the only thing wrong with Black people is that we think something is wrong with Black people. I did not fully realize that the only thing extraordinary about White people is that they think something is extraordinary about White people.”

Stamped from the Beginning won the National Book Award in 2016.

Ibram X. Kendi’s selected essays

May Reading:

My Appetites by Jerry Saltz

Jerry Saltz is an art critic for the magazine New York and a former critic for The Village Voice. He wrote this autobiographical sketch of how he came to be in his profession. It is honest and raw. And one of the more peculiar aspects of Saltz is his relationship with food.

Each person has a different way of savoring their life. With some it is with food, and the delicate complexities of a good meal, prepared and devoured: the sweet tang of a balsamic vinegar drizzled onto an aged cheddar cheese, the bright spring crisp of spinach greens from the garden, the buttery richness of a chicken gravy atop a homemade biscuit. Not so with Saltz. He has a real food peculiarity. There is no gusto to his eating and he prepares nor purchases interesting meals to eat with gusto. His friends question it, but is it really necessary to enjoy one’s dinner? Life offers many options for pleasure. Saltz, as an art critic, has found his bliss.

Growing up, his passion for art was immediate. The first time he beheld a masterpiece, it changed his life:

When I was 10 years old, my mother drove me in her powder-blue Buick Wildcat to the Art Institute of Chicago…. I had never been to a museum before. I wandered around. Bored, I started looking back and forth at a colorful little diptych. The light in it was intense; the colors were like coral-reef fish. In the left panel, a man in a prison cell chatted through the bars with two friends outside his cell. In the next image, his head is on the ground; blood spurts everywhere from his neck, which is still sticking through the window; a swordsman holsters a huge blade with blood on it.

        

(Decades later, I realized these were Giovanni di Paolo’s 15th-century depictions of the imprisonment and beheading of Saint John the Baptist.) Then it hit me: This painting was telling a story. I looked around and realized everything here was. I thought I could “hear” all these stories if I looked close enough. My mind was blown.

After some twists and turns, and dead ends, Saltz finally became free to write and read and think about art. Along with his wife, they devoted themselves more fully to critical thinking. Which is a pleasure in itself.

Here’s a link to the article, available at New York magazine:  My Appetites

April Reading:

Lyrical and Critical Essays by Albert Camus

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”

This collection of essays is in contrast to the novels and plays of Camus, a notable divergence between lightness and conflict. Though his two major themes are absurdity and rebellion, Camus also wrote poignantly of happiness:

“What is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?”

It may not have come easy for him. His novels are more expressive of how he viewed the world, not how he wished it to be:

“A certain kind of optimism, of course, is not my strong point. With the rest of my generation I grew up to the drumbeats of the First World War, and our history since then has continued the tale of murder, injustice, or violence.”

Camus wrote truthfully from his experiences of growing up in a post WWI – pre WWII (the Interwar Period) world. We can take lessons from this. At present, it is not easy to find happiness in the despair of nowadays. We are living with the uncertainties of chaos and pandemic.

But it is the simple moments, each one as they pass, that are pieces to the bliss. This is from Love of Life, written of time spent in Spain:

“When we are aware of every gift, the contradictory intoxications we can enjoy (including that of lucidity) are indescribable. Never perhaps has any land but the Mediterranean carried me so far from myself and yet so near.

Camus continues:

“The emotion I felt at the cafe in Palma probably came from this. On the other hand, what struck me in the empty district near the cathedral, at noon, among the old palaces with their cool courtyards, in the streets with their scented shadows, was the idea of a certain ‘slowness.’ No one in the streets. Motionless old women in the miradors. And, walking along past the houses, stopping in courtyards full of green plants and round, gray pillars, I melted into this silence, losing my limits, becoming nothing more than the sound of my footsteps or the flight of birds whose shadows I could see on the still sunlit portion of the walls.”

Camus did conclude that ‘there is no love of life without despair about life’ and he did wish to be rid of the theme of ‘the extreme situation’ that he was irrevocably tied to. This volume is a respite to the turmoil he wrote about.

Lyrical and Critical Essays can be checked out online at the Internet Archive.