Welcome to Vox’s weekly book link roundup, a curated selection of the internet’s best writing on books and related subjects.
Bafflingly, although it took a thousand years for March to go by, April has slipped past me between eyeblinks. Still, plenty of people spent April writing about and thinking about books, so let’s go over the best of it from the last week of the cruelest month. Here is the internet’s best writing on books and related subjects for the week of April 26, 2020.
- The New York Times is getting in on the “judge celebrities by their bookshelves” game. First, Gal Beckerman played the game, zooming in on the shelves sitting behind celebs from Cate Blanchett to Paul Rudd. Prince Charles’s bookshelves hold disconcertingly exactly what I would imagine him reading:
1. “Stubbs,” by Basil Taylor: A biography of the 18th-century English painter best known for his depictions of horses.
2. “Shattered,” by Dick Francis: From the master of the equine thriller, a novel of horse-racing and glassblowing.
3. “Kings in Grass Castles,” by Mary Durack: A 1959 Australian classic about the outback during the 19th century. He probably also owns the sequel: “Sons in the Saddle.”
The credibility bookcase, with its towering, idiosyncratic array of worn volumes, is itself an affectation. The expert could choose to speak in front of his art prints or his television or his blank white walls, but he chooses to be framed by his books. It is the most insidious of aesthetic trends: one that masquerades as pure intellectual exercise.
But how much thought have you given to the way you store your books? Even if your collection seems like a mountainous, unruly mess, it can add appeal to your home — provided you display it well.
Books “tell a story about who the homeowner is,” said Nina Freudenberger, the owner of the design firm Haus Interior in Los Angeles, and the author of “Bibliostyle: How We Live at Home with Books.”
“Books tell us about what someone was interested in, what their passions are, what their beliefs are and what kind of person they hope to be,” Ms. Freudenberger said. “Homes without books have no soul.”
If you aren’t familiar with the residency model, it may sound like a cushy retreat in the woods or a beach vacation — creative summer camp for adults. At the most competitive residencies, room and board and sometimes modest stipends are included. Getting stuck there in a pandemic could be construed as the artists’ corollary to that now-infamous honeymooning couple stuck in the Maldives. But the reality is these retreats constitute a support system for artists and writers struggling to cobble together a livelihood. Most of this season’s — and likely next season’s — resident-hopefuls, who would otherwise be making travel plans, will not be going anywhere. And even those stranded at the tip of Massachusetts are unsure of where they’ll go next.
Rhyme is one of the first ways we are introduced to language. There is evidence to suggest that it helps with language acquisition and other semantic development, and studies have also observed a link between rhyme and our aesthetic enjoyment of poetry. But among some literary circles, there is a snobbery about its use. Sceptics deride the use of rhyme as an artistic crutch, believing that it stands in way of achieving deeper, loftier literary aspirations. A common target of their ire is the rhyming dictionary—a handy manual full of avenues that poets of all abilities can run down. But while they may scoff, the long history of rhyming dictionaries shows their curious role in making poetry accessible to the masses.
The aesthetic is listening to Chopin on vinyl, while curled up with a book — likely by the Beats or Baudelaire — in dim candlelight, whilst sipping a cup of tea. It’s bringing a sketchbook to the museum and musing over ancient statues, drawing the furrowed brow and soft lips. It’s wearing turtlenecks with overpriced Barbour jackets and houndstooth trousers, complete with shiny Oxfords, to give the illusion of a brooding scholar who has an acceptance letter to Brown. Essentially, it’s living like a moody YA character who drinks whiskey while writing essays just because his favorite author did the same.
- At the Cut, Matthew Schneier suggests that now is the perfect time to memorize a poem. I, because I was that kind of teenager, taught myself “Make me a willow cabin” in high school and can do it still, privately, inside my own head. It brings me joy, if no one else. Here’s how Schneier makes his case:
Poetry is sticky. Prose slips. Barbed and spurred, poems catch in your chest; they get stuck in your head like songs. Still, to admit to liking poetry is faintly embarrassing. The familiar stereotypes cling: The old stuff is out of touch; the new is pretentious, mawkish, or insincere. If you charm your beloved with poetry, you’re a troubadour, ridiculous; you might even be a cad. (Poetry can be used and abused. Robert Lowell chopped up his devastated ex-wife Elizabeth Hardwick’s letters and served them forth in his own poetry collection, The Dolphin.) “Poetry makes nothing happen,” W. H. Auden, one of our greatest poets, famously wrote. “I, too, dislike it,” added Marianne Moore in a poem called “Poetry.” But wait! “Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one / discovers that there is in / it after all, a place for the genuine.”
And here’s the week in books at Vox:
As always, you can keep up with all our books coverage by visiting vox.com/books. Happy reading!
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China grows 'more assertive' in world politics as the U.S. leaves behind a vacuum, ex-diplomat says – CNBC
China has been flexing its geopolitical muscles as countries around the world grapple with the coronavirus pandemic — a reflection of Beijing’s belief that “China’s time has come,” a former U.S. diplomat said on Thursday.
In addition to pressing ahead with a new national security law for Hong Kong, China has toughened its stance on Taiwan — which it considers a wayward province that must be reunited with the mainland. Beijing has also kept up its aggression in the disputed waters of South China Sea and recently, at its border with India.
“China is being more assertive in pursuing goals that we know that it’s had in a number of decades,” Robert Daly, director of the Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia.”
“So clearly, this is an assertion of strength and it reflects a belief that China’s time has come, combined with the fact that this may be seen as a very good opportunity when America seems to have lost interest in global leadership and when there’s distraction from the coronavirus,” he added.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, visits a commercial street in Xi’an, capital of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, April 22, 2020.
Ju Peng | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images
Daly worked at the U.S. embassy in Beijing in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a cultural exchange officer. He also served as an interpreter for both American and Chinese leaders, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and ex-Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
Geopolitical experts have said that China’s rise as a global power is a major contributor to tensions with the U.S. — the world’s largest economy that’s regarded as a global superpower and a world leader since World War II.
But the U.S. appears to have ceded much of its global leadership since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017. That has opened the door for China to pursue some of its long-standing geopolitical goals more aggressively, said Daly.
South China Sea, India
Beijing has not let the coronavirus pandemic affect some of its territorial pursuits.
It has kept up its hostility in the South China Sea, in which it has overlapping territorial claims with multiple countries including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
Beijing claims nearly the entire resource-rich waterway, which is a vital commercial shipping route where trillions of dollars of world trade reportedly passed through.
Just last month, China’s relations with India also appeared to worsen when a military standoff started along the border they both share. Both sides blamed each other for initiating skirmishes which multiple reports said involved fist fights and stone-throwing, but the countries have since indicated their willingness to seek a diplomatic deescalation.
At the same time, Beijing increased pressure on Taiwan with frequent military drills near the island, reported Reuters. China said those drills are routine, according to the report.
China claims the self-governed island of Taiwan as its own province which could be taken by force if necessary. Beijing has touted a “one country, two systems” model which it uses on Hong Kong, but that idea was not popular with Taiwan — and even less now after months of protests in Hong Kong.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said last week his country would “resolutely oppose and deter any separatist activities seeking Taiwan independence.” Li, the second-in-command, notably dropped the word “peaceful” when he referred to “reunification” with the island.
Meanwhile, tensions have been reached fever pitch in Hong Kong as well.
The Chinese-ruled city was handed to China by the United Kingdom in 1997, and is governed under the “one country, two systems” principle which allows Hong Kong some freedoms that its mainland counterparts don’t enjoy. They include self-governing power, limited election rights, as well as a largely separate legal and economic framework from the mainland.
However, China pressed ahead to introduce a national security law in the city last week, essentially bypassing Hong Kong’s legislature.
Critics see the proposed legislation as Beijing’s move to tighten its grip on the special administration region following months of pro-democracy protests that turned violent at times.
Those issues that China has been pushing ahead with in recent months “aren’t new,” said Daly.
“What is new is them pursuing all of them with such vigor simultaneously,” he said. “And clearly they see vacuum and perhaps a lack of will from other nations, the United States in particular, to stand up for this.”
Trump’s dangerous militarization of U.S. politics – The Washington Post
The events of this week have startled even those who have been alarmed for some time about the trajectory of American politics. On Monday, Trump used security forces to disperse demonstrators before a photo op by a church. In the days since, he has kept up his steady drumbeat of divisive rhetoric, vowing to unleash the armed forces on U.S. cities. Such calls, echoed by Trump loyalists, belie the scenes of peaceful protesters gathered daily outside the White House.
We may be now inside Trump’s “Götterdämmerung,” as Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution declared — the “vicious downward spiral” as his presidential term draws to a combustive end. National polls show Trump slumping behind Democratic challenger and former vice president Joe Biden. On the streets of Washington, out-of-town federal forces confront protesters, including armed officers with little to no identification of the agency to which they belong.
Trump’s inner circle is doing little to curb his aggressive instincts as protests over the death of George Floyd continue across the country. Attorney General William P. Barr warns of a “witch’s brew” of extremists, no matter that the majority of marches and demonstrations have not been violent. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper speaks of U.S. cities as “battlespaces.” A White House spokesman told reporters that “all options are on the table” regarding military deployments to quell protests, language the administration more often uses when seeking to deter geopolitical adversaries overseas.
Probably the only thing Barack Obama & I have in common is that we both had the honor of firing Jim Mattis, the world’s most overrated General. I asked for his letter of resignation, & felt great about it. His nickname was “Chaos”, which I didn’t like, & changed to “Mad Dog”…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 4, 2020
So far, the most significant rebuke to the president came from his former defense secretary. “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us” Jim Mattis wrote in a widely circulated statement Wednesday. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”
“Every appearance in uniform, every word out of the mouth of a senior military leader, at this point has consequences,” wrote Eliot Cohen, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “While these men and women are not the only or even the prime safeguards of American freedoms, they constitute an important line of protection. And if they are willing to take a bullet for the country, they need to be entirely prepared to take obscenity-laced tirades and a pink slip for it.”
Critics warn of the damage already done by Trump’s threats to use military might at home. “Creating a sense that the military is a partisan political actor really does violence to the nature of the civil-military compact of the United States,” said Kori Schake, a former Pentagon official at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, to the New York Times.
“To divide and conquer at home, using the United States military, is an incredible escalation of the government’s coercive power,” said Alice Friend, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to Reuters.
General @Martin_Dempsey, retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is criticizing the president’s threat to send federal troops into the states. “The idea that the military would be called into suppress what for the most part were peaceful protests” is “very dangerous.”
— Steve Inskeep (@NPRinskeep) June 4, 2020
The world’s sole superpower is starting to look like more fragile countries elsewhere. Trump and his loyalists are only the second camp in the Western Hemisphere this past month to entertain notions of domestic military crackdowns: Supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro have urged a full-fledged takeover of the administrative state as the president faces a storm of controversies amid the coronavirus pandemic. And while top brass in both countries now feel compelled to publicly pledge fealty to their constitution and democracy, experts fear a growing far-right radicalization further down the ranks, especially among the local police.
“The Trump administration and its allies in Congress should dispense with incendiary, panicky rhetoric that suggests the U.S. is in armed conflict with its own people, or that some political faction is the enemy, lest security forces feel encouraged or emboldened to target them as combatants,” noted the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based organization that focuses on conflict prevention and rarely comments on domestic American affairs.
On one hand, the erosion on view challenges the country’s deep embrace of its armed forces as a wholly benign actor. The irony of prominent Republicans calling for the military to flush out demonstrators on the 31st anniversary of that kind of intervention in Beijing was not lost on many commentators.
“Tiananmen in the American imagination is something fantastic and distant, deliberately placed far away and long ago,” wrote Rui Zhong in Foreign Policy. “It is a black mark against the Chinese state alone, rather than a possibility in America itself. Only under a dictatorship could such things happen, we say, forgetting Ocoee, Opelousas, Tulsa, or Kent State.”
On the other hand, it also serves as a reminder to observers abroad of the limits of American commitments to democracy and the rule of law. “It will certainly be very easy for leaders in Africa, those with their own dictatorial tendencies, to justify future behavior by referencing the actions of the U.S. administration in the last few weeks,” wrote Nigeria-based analyst Idayat Hassan. “What Africans can learn from recent U.S. events is that democracy must never be taken for granted and that the rights of all citizens must continually be fought for.”
Politics This Morning: Canada slowing COVID-19 infection rate, but threat remains as restrictions ease, says Tam – The Hill Times
Good Friday morning,
Fresh figures from federal public health officials showed that Quebec and Ontario account for more than 90 per cent of the country’s COVID-19 caseload. The latest projections, released yesterday, suggested that Canada could see between 97,990 to 107,454 cases by June 15.
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said while Canada has made progress in curbing the infection rate and controlling the spread of the epidemic, the threat hasn’t fully abated, as there is still no vaccine for the virus.
Former Liberal cabinet minister Jane Philpott has been tapped by Ontario to advise it in its efforts to collect racial and socioeconomic data during the pandemic. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Philpott said her job will be to bring together “huge amounts of information” that have been siloed. Such data, she said, will be useful in improving the government’s research efforts and response to medical care. Her position is unpaid.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opted not to comment on the release of a video that shows an RCMP officer hitting an Inuit man with his truck in Kinngait. The chief superintendent of the Nunavut RCMP has called for an investigation into the incident. According to the Globe, the victim was arrested for public intoxication, but was not charged. Mr. Trudeau reiterated comments he made earlier this week, acknowledging the existence of systemic racism amid the ongoing protests against police violence, triggered in the wake of George Floyd‘s death.
As anti-racism and police brutality protests show no signs of waning, one activist and some Parliamentarians said that there’s growing recognition that it’s time to go beyond long-overdue “piecemeal reforms.”
Independent Senator Rosemary Moodie observed the protests, which are colliding with a deadly pandemic that’s disproportionately affecting racialized communities, are drawing out more allies. “Every race is out there on the streets, supporting the concerns of what’s happening,” Sen. Moodie said.
Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen, who immigrated to Canada as a refugee from Somalia, told Toronto Star that the process for addressing systemic racism in Canada starts with amplifying the “voices of those who feel that sting of discrimination of racism as part of their lived reality,” who can define the scale of the issue. He said there’s also work to be done at the community level, by empowering groups who are front-line responders when incidents occur.
Seniors Minister Deb Schulte said the government delayed the rollout of COVID funding for seniors to prevent fraud, which has been an issue flagged public servants in the processing of cheques through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit program. The top-up in financial assistance to vulnerable seniors will arrive the week of July 6. Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough sought to assure MPs the government intends to pore over cases where fraud might have occurred.
In scheduled events, the House Indigenous Affairs Committee is scheduled to hear from First Nations Tax Commission and the Inuit Business Council, among others, at 11 a.m. Happening simultaneously is the Government Operations Committee meeting, where industry officials and Coalition of Concerned Manufacturers and Businesses of Canada are slated to testify. The Industry Committee, meanwhile, is holding a hearing at 2 p.m. Witnesses include the Montreal Port Authority and Spartan Bioscience Inc.
The Hill Times
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