Recommended Readings – June, 2014

Every so often, I share some of the articles that I’ve really enjoyed recently, regardless of the subject or length or source. Feel free to check out some of my other recommendations from 2013 (February 17thJune 20thJuly 28th, & August 8th) or earlier this year (March 2014), as I try to make my suggested articles as timeless as possible – after all, as Henry David Thoreau suggested in his Life Without Principle, “Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.” Below, in no particular order, are seven articles that I highly recommend. Let me know what you think.

A cartoon by Tom Gauld, Guardian Review.

A cartoon by Tom Gauld, Guardian Review.

1. “Why Maya Angelou Disliked Modesty”

by Dawn Reiss, The Atlantic, June 2, 2014

“As I learned when I met her, the late author believed that true arrogance lay in denying one’s own specialness—and denying the specialness of others.” While I’ll admit that I’m not nearly as familiar with Mrs. Angelou and her works, I loved this piece and the way it further illuminated Angelou’s swagger.

“I don’t know what arrogance means,” [Angelou] said. “You see, I have no patience with modesty. Modesty is a learned adaptation. It’s stuck on like decals.  As soon as life slams a modest person against the wall, that modesty will fall off faster than a G-string will fall off a stripper.”

2. “Why you should avoid reading best-selling books”

by Shane Parrish, The Week, May 13, 2014

Sometimes writing moves us by opening our eyes to things previously unknown to us; but sometimes writing moves us by articulating what we’ve often felt but were unable to say. As C.S. Lewis is credited with saying, “We read to know that we are not alone.” For me, this simple article is one of those pieces. While I believe any and every type of reading is better than no reading at all, I think it’s important to read efficiently. The “classics” may not have the same accessibility and ease as current best-sellers, but, as Parrish writes, the best approach to reading “is to learn things that don’t change quickly – or at all.”

Sure, cherry-picking books off the best-seller list may arm you with conversational ammo that will make you seem in the know. But to truly get smarter, go beyond what’s hot and delve into books that have endured. Your brain will thank you.

3. “Kanye’s Public Unraveling, Marriage, and Why We Should Care”

by Jason Parham, Gawker, May 28, 2014

Okay, I know I just praised the importance of classic texts over what’s popular today, but that doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from diving into today’s pop culture – especially if we can tie history into it, thus (hopefully) allowing us to more beneficially shape our future. Parham examines Kanye West and what his fame means to us, partly by looking beyond Kanye himself, and even quoting Walt Whitman.

Let’s be real, for the last 10 years Kanye has embodied the contradictions that have defined who we are. We claim ownership of the story because, however ugly or amazing or uncertain the reality, we see ourselves in him. That he has been so forthcoming about his contradictions and faults the entire time makes his existence all the more humane.

4. “There’s No Such Thing as a Slut”

by Olga Khazan, The Atlantic May 28, 2014

Unfortunately far too often, women are trapped in the virgin/whore dichotomy, which unfairly limits women according to their sexual ‘purity’ – or so one would think. However, this article highlights a new study published in Social Psychology Quarterly, which suggests that “economic inequality drove many of the differences in the ways the women talked about appropriate sexual behavior.” Not only do allegations of ‘sluttiness’ have “little to do with real-life behavior,” there’s not even a “cogent definition of sluttiness, or of girls who were slutty, or even evidence that the supposedly slutty behavior had transpired.” Rather, the author says, the “rampant slut-shaming … was only a symptom of the women’s entrenched classism.”

“Slut” is simply a misogynistic catch-all, a verbal utility knife that young people use to control women and create hierarchies. There may be no real sluts, in other words, but there are real and devastating consequences to slut-shaming.”

by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic, May 21, 2014

This piece by TNC – one of the best writers alive today – broke readership records for The Atlantic website, despite being almost 16,000 words. (Yes, just a warning, it is almost 16,000 words, which is much, much longer than all of the other articles on here. But I promise it’s worth it. I promise.) As his writing so often is, Coates’ piece can be uncomfortable, infuriating, and depressing to read – but not without a purpose. The cover story is thought-provoking, eye-opening, and enlightening, all while being beautifully written and forcefully gripping the reader’s attention by the throat. I don’t recommend this piece simply as something that I think you should read; I recommend this piece as something every American needs to read.

Indeed, in America there is a strange and powerful belief that if you stab a black person 10 times, the bleeding stops and the healing begins the moment the assailant drops the knife. We believe white dominance to be a fact of the inert past, a delinquent debt that can be made to disappear if only we don’t look.

6. “Hell Is a Myth — Actually, a Bunch of Myths”

by Jon M. Sweeney, Huffington Post Religion, May 22, 2014

For many Christians, the idea of Hell is an extremely important aspect of their faith. And regardless of one’s faith, many Americans have a vivid picture of what Hell looks like – but is that based on The Bible? Perhaps surprisingly, no, it’s not. In this informational and thoughtful article, Sweeney explains that our visualizations of Hell come more from Dante than Paul or Jesus.

There was little agreement among Christians, before Dante, about the nature and extent of what we call hell. Ancient Judaism and the New Testament writers had very little to say on the subject. Jesus made a few obscure, picturesque references to the afterlife, but he usually used Gehenna as his example of a place to be feared (eg. Mt. 5:29). Gehenna was a place on the outskirts of the Old City of Jerusalem where trash, and sometimes the bodies of crucified criminals, were burned.

7. “The Left Ought to Worry About Hillary Clinton, Hawk and Militarist, in 2016”

by Bob and Barbara Dreyfuss, The Nation, May 27, 2014

With Bush and Obama’s ‘War on Terror’ over a decade old, America has faced, and continues to face, serious threats to our freedoms – both from within and beyond on our borders. And, as I’ve discussed before, both Republicans and Democrats have done more than enough to further erode our civil liberties. As this piece notes, Hillary Clinton has been hammered regarding her role in Benghazi – which the authors call “a nonexistent scandal if ever there was one” – but has widely avoided criticism for her more troublesome actions and stances. It’s already frightening enough to hear some Republicans denounce Obama and his foreign policy as ‘weak,’ so it’s especially scary to imagine a Democrat in the White House who’s even more pro-war than Obama.

Both before her appointment and during her service, she consistently came down on the hawkish side of debates inside the administration, from Afghanistan to Libya and Syria. She’s also taken a more hawkish line than Obama on Ukraine and the confrontation with Russia.

 

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