Epictetus: Think Better
Epictetus was a Stoic Greek philosopher who lived from AD 55-135. His belief was basically that all external events are determined by fate; there’s nothing we can do to control what happens to us. Nevertheless, we are responsible for how we react, which we can control through rigorous self discipline. Odd as it sounds, it reminds me of a M*A*S*H episode. Colonel Potter says as much when he compares life to baseball. We can’t control the circumstances of the game; the best thing we can do is hit what’s pitched. I like this quote on how books can inform our lives.
“Don’t just say you have read books. Show that through them you have learned to think better, to be a more discriminating and reflective person. Books are the training weights of the mind. They are very helpful, but it would be a bad mistake to suppose that one has made progress simply by having internalized their contents.”
-Epictetus, The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness and Effectiveness
The Shapes of Stories
Kurt Vonnegut was well-known worldwide for his novels, such as Slaughterhouse-Five, Hocus Pocus and others. But he also made a contribution to culture that wasn’t as well known. Maya Eilam made this graphic from Vonnegut’s rejected master’s thesis in anthropology on the shape of stories. “The basic idea of his thesis was that a story’s main character has ups and downs that can be graphed to reveal the story’s shape,” she writes.
I really wish Ludovico Einaudi would tour the United States. I first began to enjoy his music just a few years ago, when I first heard his previous work, In a Time Lapse, which is wonderful. Now his current release, Elements, is getting constant play on my iPhone. Whether you are a fan of classical, or jazz, or just good music, and you haven’t heard him before, give it a try. In fact, I will bet you have heard his music without realizing it. Einaudi’s work is featured on many film soundtracks. Here is how Ludovico describes his latest work:
The Rest is Advertising
Journalists will relate to Jacob Silverman’s “confession” in The Baffler about being a writer of sponsored content: The Rest is Advertising.
“In case you haven’t heard, journalism is now in perpetual crisis, and conditions are increasingly surreal” he writes. “The fate of the controversialists at Gawker rests on a delayed jury trial over a Hulk Hogan sex tape. Newspapers publish directly to Facebook, and Snapchat hires journalists away from CNN. Last year, the Pulitzer Prizes doubled as the irony awards; one winner in the local reporting category, it emerged, had left his newspaper job months earlier for a better paying gig in PR. “Is there a future in journalism and writing and the Internet?” Choire Sicha, cofounder of The Awl, wrote last January. “Haha, FUCK no, not really.” Even those who have kept their jobs in journalism, he explained, can’t say what they might be doing, or where, in a few years’ time. Disruption clouds the future even as it holds it up for worship.
“But for every crisis in every industry, a potential savior emerges. And in journalism, the latest candidate is sponsored content.”
Silverman’s assessment of the state of journalism today is well worth the read.
Once Upon a Crime
The beloved Minneapolis mystery bookstore Once Upon a Crime was recently featured on NPR. Gary Schultze and Pat Frovarp met at the store, fell in love, married there, and ran the store for 14 years. Now they are retiring.
Like a Puppet Show
Enjoy this great animated tour of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s greatest creations: Falling Water. Courtesy of Open Culture.
You must read the great cover story in the March 2016 Atlantic written by James Fallows. Most Americans believe their country is going to hell, he writes. But after a three-year trip across the country in his single-prop plane, Fallows learned that what has been said about American decline is different that how it appears from our national dialogue:
“As a whole, the country may seem to be going to hell. That jeremiad view is a great constant through American history. The sentiment is predictably and particularly strong in a presidential-election year like this one, when the “out” party always has a reason to argue that things are bad and getting worse. And plenty of objective indicators of trouble, from stagnant median wages to drug epidemics in rural America to gun deaths inflicted by law-enforcement officers and civilians, support the dystopian case.
“But here is what I now know about America that I didn’t know when we started these travels, and that I think almost no one would infer from the normal diet of news coverage and political discourse. The discouraging parts of the San Bernardino story are exceptional—only five other U.S. cities are officially bankrupt—but the encouraging parts have resonance almost anywhere else you look ... What is true for this very hard-luck city prevails more generally: Many people are discouraged by what they hear and read about America, but the closer they are to the action at home, the better they like what they see.”
The Life and Death and Life of Magazines
Is this graph an accurate history of American magazine publishing? Has the Internet decimated the remains of our attention spans? That’s not exactly the case. Read The Life and Death and Life of Magazines, and learn how magazines have been dying since there have been magazines.
“Worse, we’re told that it has paradoxically fostered a new scourge for great magazine writing: more of it,” writes Evan Ratliff. “In just the last five years, web sites and magazines new and old—from Nautilus to BuzzFeed to Matter to The Atavist Magazine, which I edit—have added to an ambitious resurgence in long, serious magazine writing. While this might seem like a sign of life, critics have explained that in fact such efforts are diminishing this great craft. Terms like “longform” and #hashtags like #longreads—through which readers recommend work they appreciate to other potential readers—only serve to dilute what was once the purview of discriminating enthusiasts alone. “The problem,” Jonathan Mahler wrote in the New York Times in 2014, “is that long-form stories are too often celebrated simply because they exist.” It was bad enough when our capacity to produce and read great stories collapsed. Now it seems we’ve turned around and loved magazine writing to death.”
Best Books of 2015
Happy New Year! Did you read any great books in 2015? One of my favorites is M Train, Patti Smith’s intellectual memoir that’s so hard to characterize. Is it a memoir? Not really. It is a wonderful account of the books, poems, music and ideas that have shaped her life. Let’s just call it good. Bill Gates picks a few of his favorites from the year in this video below. I also enjoyed The Road to Character by David Brooks. Other favorites I read in 2015 incude Lincoln’s Gamble by Todd Brewster, Curiosity by Philip Ball, and In Defense of a Liberal Education by Fareed Zakaria.