JJ's Corner

Twelve Minutes and a Life by Mitchell S. Jackson

This article was published in the magazine Runner’s World and it just won the Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing. It’s an eloquent composition, a biography of Ahmaud Arbery and then a timestamp of the day of his death.

Going for a run is generally not a dangerous activity for whites; for Black people, it can be deadly. Ahmaud Arbery was jogging when he was stalked and gunned down by white supremacists. This lynching occurred last year and the perpetrators have been arrested and are awaiting trial. It’s just one more death in a too long line of lynchings that are part of this country’s heritage. The following points out the disparities, that Black people can’t be recreational runners:

Peoples, I invite you to ask yourself, just what is a runner’s world? Ask yourself who deserves to run? Who has the right? Ask who’s a runner? What’s their so-called race? Their gender? Their class? Ask yourself where do they live, where do they run? Where can’t they live and run? … Ahmaud Arbery, by all accounts, loved to run but didn’t call himself a runner. That is a shortcoming of the culture of running. That Maud’s jogging made him the target of hegemonic white forces is a certain failure of America. Check the books—slave passes, vagrancy laws, Harvard’s Skip Gates arrested outside his own crib—Blacks ain’t never owned the same freedom of movement as whites.

The argument can be made that recreational running is a white person’s sport. But there is more to it than that. For Black people there are dangers walking down their street, or sleeping in their bed. For all the pain that this article evokes, it is a celebration of the life of Ahmaud Arbery. He was talented and he was loved by his family. And we are left waiting for progress.

Here’s a link to Twelve Minutes and a Life.

 

A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George Saunders

This classroom in a book is based on writing professor George Saunders’ Russian short story class. It is a master class of seven Russian short stories with analysis (before, during, &) after each one. Sometimes it takes a professor to demonstrate the genius behind a well-written story. To get the student, in this case, the reader, to exercise the critical thinking that’s needed to attend to a well-written short story. Have we all been reading underwater? With the professor’s insight, he gives the reader permission to critique.

“A story is a series of incremental pulses, each of which does something to us. Each puts us in a new place, relative to where we just were. Criticism is not some inscrutable, mysterious process. It’s just a matter of 1) noticing ourselves responding to a work of art, moment by moment, and 2) getting better at articulating that response.”

A book for those who want to get psyched to write well, or to read better.

Orwell: Politics and the English Language

Beware the agents of slovenly language. Orwell got it right when he published this essay in 1946.

“When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases … one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them … And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.”

Link here to read the entire essay: Politics and the English Language

And some trivia about his book 1984: It was banned in the USSR for being anti-communist and banned in the US for being pro-communist.

Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes, Through Darkness and Light by Caroline Eden

There are a myriad of ways to describe Caroline Eden’s delectable book: literary narrative, history textbook, travel memoir, and finally, cookbook. What most holds the reader’s attention are Eden’s descriptions of a decaying, romantic world as she circles around the Black Sea. This is something to fall into on a cold February day.

People have been flocking to the Black Sea for millennia, due to its location. The beaches of the sea touch a host of European countries, and over the centuries European rivers and ocean straits brought in a multitude of migrants. Subsequently, cultures have flourished and perished and the buildings offer proof. There is beauty in decay, and in towns well-lived. Here is Eden’s description of Odessa:

Pootling, rusty trams add a muted vibrational hum. In winter, when cold winds scud off the sea, turning the air to ice, these aged cartoonish streetcars, painted in childish yellows and blues, fill with women dressed in thick black fur coats. In summer, when the city sparkles with possibilities, like too-sweet Crimean champanski, the quavering cars swelter and seem to slow down, matching the pace of the city. Easing languidly around bends like slow-moving centipedes, through the heavily scented atmosphere. Dockside, the air smells of rust, tar, salt, brine, and diesel. Inland, the fragrance is gentler, of dust, unaired teahouses, and perfumy jam. Scents that catalogue memories, unchanged for decades.

The recipes in the book are simple enough, and the ingredient lists are achievable, even in our isolated community. A recipe for Jewish challah that Eden discovered at an Italian restaurant is included, along with fare influenced by the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and European cultures that passed through. A spicy strawberry recipe, modified from a dish Eden had in Istanbul, consists of chili, strawberries, sugar, lemon, yogurt, and cream cheese. Truly a beautiful blend of flavors.

Black Sea is available through Prospector here.

Caroline Eden’s latest book Red Sands: Reportage and Recipes Through Central Asia was released last November, and Samarkand is due to be released this autumn.

The Hills We Climb by Amanda Gorman