Today we read the Sinclair Lewis of “Main Street,” “Babbitt,” “Elmer Gantry” and “It Can’t Happen Here” not for literary value but the way Margaret Mead studied the Balinese character–for ethnographic insights. Lewis’s novels are a window into an America not nearly as dated as his reputation.
Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire,” published in January 1968, worthy of any top-100 list of the best books of the last hundred years and an essential read–and re-read-today, is a meditation, a polemic, a manifesto, a provocation, a valentine and an elegy to the red desert and to American wilderness.
Bob Woodward’s and Robert Costa’s “Peril,” third in the trilogy of Woodward’s books on the Trump administration, isn’t history. It’s most revealing in what it does not say. It’s tragicomedy. It’s a chronicle of trash foretold. And it’s prediction. The worst is ahead.
George Packer’s “The Last best Hope,” published in June, attempts to explain how the United States devolved into the furies of Donald Trump’s last year–the pandemic, the BLM marches, the Jan. 6 insurrection–by diagnosing four separate Americas that no longer communicate. It’s a dour, guilt-ridden book by a liberal looking for penance in all the wrong places.
Millions throughout the world’s African community start weeklong celebrations of Kwanzaa today, Dec. 27. For the African-American community, Kwanzaa is not just any “Black holiday.” It is a recognition that knowledge of Black history is worthwhile.
What historian Arthur Schlesinger had detected in 1992 in a few trends is now orthodoxy–from both sides, neither for the better. The “ethnic rage” of diversity-preaching liberals and the fundamentalist, doctrinaire “monoculturalism” of conservatives has the country in a state of paralysis. Schlesinger wanted a renewed melting pot. But that’s not the solution.
“Achieving Our Country” is an energizing manifesto, a reminder that we are not as good as we think we are, and, atrocious as we can be, not nearly as bad, either. We are merely unachieved. With a little less despair, a little more affection, even–heaven forbid–a bit of patriotism, however defined but equally respected we can achieve more.
Haters and disrespect aside, fruitcake is still a robust American tradition, with 2 million sold each year, though a quip attributed to former “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson has it that “There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.”
Rep. Lauren Boebert insinuating that Rep. Ilhan Omar could have been a suicide bomber isn’t just about an unhinged Congresswoman stoking the extreme fringe of the Republican base. The real issue is the ongoing normalization of Islamophobia in America, which has soared to frightening new heights since 9/11.
Discussions during plantation tours among visitors can often turn into visceral debates over whose history should be told or ignored. These tensions are part of an ever-growing work of criticism directed at sites that continue to omit the history of the enslaved community. Of the 600 plantations scattered throughout the South, only one, the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana, focuses entirely on the experiences of the enslaved.