A dreadful bore.8:27 AM, Nov 3, 2015 • By CHRISTOPHER J. SCALIA
President Obama’s hour-long conversation with the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson, published in two parts in the New York Review of Books, inspired responses that were so hyperbolic and adoring, it felt like 2008 all over again.
According to Vox, it “is the most revealing interview of Obama’s presidency." (As the president would say, “let me be clear”: This was a conversation, not an interview. An interview implies that Obama speaks less than Robinson.) It threatens Oprah’s “position as America’s most sought-after author interviewer,” says the Guardian. Vogue calls it “riveting, and somehow more informative than the many interviews in which Obama is the one fielding the questions.” All that’s missing is a Chris Matthews leg-thrill. (The second part, published last Tuesday, hasn’t garnered nearly as much attention.)
Anyone who hasn’t already voted twice for President Obama will be skeptical of this praise—yet anybody who thinks that a healthy national culture needs good literary fiction should read the conversation. The problem is that much of the exchange consists of two people agreeing about politics, which makes it disappointingly dull.
Among the conversation’s few legitimate “revelations” is the president’s description of the role fiction played in his personal development:
When I think about how I understand my role as citizen . . . the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for it. And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you.
This is among the most common and compelling arguments for not only novel-reading, but the Humanities in general. It’s exciting to hear it from a president rather than a teacher desperate to convince students to pay attention.
The president’s admiration of Robinson is also endearing. Christian Lorentzen aptly says that the president “has a touch of the old SNL sketch ‘The Chris Farley Show’ about him: ‘Remember when you wrote Gilead? That was awesome.’” Obama doesn’t pretend to have read all of her work—his specific references seem limited to her recent essay “Fear” and her masterpiece, 2004’s Gilead. But he knows those works well, and for much of the first part he asks about her early interest in reading and writing, her writing process, and her specific thematic concerns.
10:00 AM, Oct 3, 2015 • By PHILIP TERZIAN
Banned Books Week, the American Library Association’s annual self-advertisement, has now ended for this year. Bookstores will disassemble their earnest displays of “banned books,”and the semblance of normality will return to public libraries. And we will be left with the sobering thought that, in 21st-century America, there remain people who would ban the works of Harper Lee or J.D.
5:01 PM, Aug 4, 2015 • By ERIN MUNDAHL
Americans have long been skeptical of the liberal arts. Frequently this takes the form of a discussion of whether a degree in history or literature is “worth it” in a purely economic sense. Annual reports highlight the top-earning college majors, subtly encouraging students to forgo a class in literature or history in favor of something useful, like nursing or engineering.
Perhaps it’s a reflection of our innate American pragmatism.
3:41 PM, Jul 23, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
The latest New York Times bestseller list has Ted Cruz's A Time for Truth at number 8. Just above him is former President Jimmy Carter's A Full Life, coming in at 7.
The strange thing, however, is that Cruz sold almost 60 percent more copies of his book last week than Carter.
According to Bookscan, which tracks the number of books sold, Cruz sold 8,814 last week. Carter sold only 5,147.
The New York Times list does not indicate either author's books were purchased in bulk orders.
1:38 PM, Jul 8, 2015 • By DAVID BAHR
Fareed Zakaria, CNN’s foreign policy touchstone, has officially entered what is passing for the “culture wars” in American education with his new book, In Defense of a Liberal Education. Zakaria argues that the mode of education known as the liberal arts is in peril, and purports to offer a robust defense.
1:03 PM, Jan 22, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
In a press conference with reporters today on Capitol Hill, Harry Reid described what he's been up to since injuring his face and ribs in an exercising accident:
3:49 PM, Jan 12, 2015 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
It's been almost five years since Obamacare was passed, and the law remains as unpopular as ever—public support hit a record low of 37 percent in November. Opposing Obamacare is a no-brainer for Republicans politically, though the question of what to do about the law remains something that divides the right. And finding the right legislative remedy has become an especially acute challenge now that Republicans control the House and Senate.
The Washington Examiner's Phil Klein has justly earned a reputation as one of the best reporters covering Obamacare, and the timing of his new book, Overcoming Obamacare: Three Approaches to Reversing the Government Takeover of Health Care, could not be better. Here Klein takes a look at three major schools of thought on the right about how to fixing the law, or what he calls the reform school, the replace school, and the restart school. If you want to know what the future holds in store for Obamacare, Klein's book is essential reading—and the Kindle version is just $2.99.
The B&A Podcast is hosted by Philip Terzian.10:05 AM, Oct 12, 2014 • By TWS PODCAST
THE WEEKLY STANDARD Books & Arts Podcast with Philip Terzian, on the October 13th Issue's Books and Arts section.
The Loeb Classical Library goes digitalOct 6, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 04 • By SUSAN KRISTOL
“Chemistry and Physics Get Million from Loeb,” blared the Harvard Crimson headline. “Funds will modernize laboratory facilities and establish chemistry chairs.” The donor: scientist Morris Loeb ’83. A million dollars is indeed generous. But on the Harvard scale, did it really warrant a Crimson headline?
Night visions of Americans, and what to make of themJul 28, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 43 • By JUDY BACHRACH
It’s hard to know what to make of Lincoln Dreamt He Died. On reading the title, my first irreverent thought was: Hey, safe bet. My second: Contrary to popular myth-ology, many of us dream of our own deaths—and guess what? We’re prophetic! Then I studied the subtitle and worried some more. Was this going to be as bad as the publisher heralded?
The literary (?) career of Jules VerneJul 21, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 42 • By ALGIS VALIUNAS
Certain amusements appropriate to childhood or adolescence have established a beachhead in adulthood, or its 21st-century American simulacrum. Grown men and women indulge, with or without shame, in video games, fantasy football leagues, sitcoms, online porn, comic books, and movies based on comic books—or that involve Las Vegas, 33 shots of tequila, and waking up athwart two female Sumo wrestlers and a chimpanzee.
Will you, won’t you, benefit from graduate education?Jun 30, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 40 • By ABIGAIL LAVIN
When I sat for my SAT exams as a high school senior, I thought to myself, “This is the last standardized test you will ever have to take!” I had never considered myself an intellectual and was vaguely distrustful of anyone who chose the cocoon of the academy over the rough-and-tumble of the “real world.” Ten years later, I was sitting in a café in downtown Shanghai, gritting my teeth over the Princeton Review’s GRE prep manual.
The Great War, of modern memory, at 100Jun 30, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 40 • By J. HARVIE WILKINSON III
Back then, it was not known as World War I, for the obvious reason that the Second World War still lay in the future. It was simply the Great War, for the world had never seen anything like it.