July Reading:

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Published in 1855, Walt Whitman reworked his masterpiece throughout his life. When Whitman died in 1892, the volume had developed from twelve poems to over 400.

Whitman wrote in the original preface: “The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.”

Long, Too Long America

Long, too long America,

Traveling roads all even and peaceful you learn’d from joys and prosperity only,

But now, ah now, to learn from crises of anguish, advancing, grappling with direst fate and recoiling not,

And now to conceive and show to the world what your children en-masse really are,

(For who except myself has yet conceiv’d what your children en-masse really are?)

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