Later On

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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Larkin on Poetry’s Pleasure Principle

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Phillip Larkin writes with stunning clarity:

It is sometimes useful to remind ourselves of the simpler aspects of things normally regarded as complicated. Take, for instance, the writing of a poem. It consists of three stages: the first is when a man becomes obsessed with an emotional concept to such a degree that he is compelled to do something about it. What he does is the second stage, namely, construct a verbal device that will reproduce this emotional concept in anyone who cares to read it, anywhere, any time. The third stage is the recurrent situation of people in different times and places setting off the device and re-creating in themselves what the poet felt when he wrote it. The stages are interdependent and all necessary. If there has been no preliminary feeling, the device has nothing to reproduce and the reader will experience nothing. If the second stage has not been well done, the device will not deliver the goods, or will deliver only a few goods to a few people, or will stop delivering them after an absurdly short while. And if there is no third stage, no successful reading, the poem can hardly be said to exist in a practical sense at all.

What a description of this basic tripartite structure shows is that poetry is emotional in nature and theatrical in operation, a skilled recreation of emotion in other people, and that, conversely, a bad poem is one that never succeeds in doing this. All modes of critical derogation are no more than different ways of saying this, whatever literary, philosophical or moral terminology they employ, and it would not be necessary to point out anything so obvious if present-day poetry did not suggest that it had been forgotten. We seem to be producing a new kind of bad poetry, not the old kind that tries to move the reader and fails, but one that does not even try. Repeatedly he is confronted with pieces that cannot be understood without reference beyond their own limits or whose contented insipidity argues that their authors are merely reminding themselves of what they know already, rather than re-creating it for a third party. The reader, in fact, seems . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2017 at 7:21 pm

Posted in Art, Books, Writing

A Review of Reviews of “The Handmaid’s Tale”: An interesting pattern emerges

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Kevin Drum’s post is well worth reading. It begins:

Below are excerpts from a baker’s dozen reviews of Hulu’s new adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. Can you figure out what they all have in common? . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 April 2017 at 9:59 pm

Dutch Kids Aren’t Stressed Out: What Americans Can Learn From How the Netherlands Raises Children

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Alternet has an interesting excerpt from a book:

The following is an adapted excerpt from The Happiest Kids in the World (The Experiment, April 2017) by Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison.

Two toddlers have just chased each other to the top of a jungle gym while their mothers are lost in conversation on a nearby park bench. A gang of older children in tracksuits comes racing along the bike path, laughing. They overtake a young mom, who is cycling slowly, balancing a baby in a seat on the front of her bike and a toddler on the back. A group of girls is playing monkey-in-the-middle on the grass. Not far away, some boys are perfecting their skateboarding moves. None of the school-age children are accompanied by adults. This is no movie, just a happy scene on a regular Wednesday afternoon in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark.

In 2013, UNICEF rated Dutch children the happiest in the world. According to researchers, Dutch kids are ahead of their peers in well-being when compared with twenty-nine of the world’s richest industrialized countries. The US ranked twenty-sixth, just above Lithuania, Latvia and Romania – the three poorest countries in the survey.

As an American mom and a British mom, both of us married to Dutchmen and raising our kids in the Netherlands, it’s hard not to notice how happy Dutch children are. The scene we described above should give you an idea why: Childhood over here consists of freedom, plenty of play and little academic stress.

When we compare notes with friends back home, we hear horror stories, often to do with draconian selection processes to get into schools, starting at the tender age of three. These days there’s even such a thing as “good” or “bad” birthdays and “red-shirting” to ensure children have a head start over the other children in the class. In America, parenting has evolved into a highly competitive, exhausting business and schooling into a warzone with children drilled like miniature soldiers.

Stress-Free Schooling

Of all the parenting decisions we have to make, our child’s education is one of the most fundamental. Education is seen as the route to success and a guarantee of a happy future. No American parent can ever be sure they’ve made the right decision, whether they’ve chosen private or public school. If you don’t get your kid into a good nursery school, they won’t get into a good elementary school. A good elementary school is essential to get your child into a decent middle and then high school. And, of course, a decent high school is essential to get a place at the best university. Many parents will go to great lengths to get their child into the right school – taking out an extra mortgage, or moving to a different town.

But in the Netherlands, childhood is unencumbered with any of these particular concerns. Education has a different purpose: the route to a child’s well-being and their individual development. Schools in highly-populated areas use a lottery process to select students, rather than competitive entrance exams and heart-wrenching interviews. To get into most college programs, all a student needs is to pass high school exams at the right level. As a result, there is no real pressure to get straight A’s. In order to come to grips with the Dutch school system, we had to let go of a lot of things we’d been brought up to believe in and re-examine what education was all about.

In Dutch elementary schools, kids start school at four but don’t start structured, formal learning – reading, writing, arithmetic – until six years old, Year 3. If they show interest in these subjects earlier, they are provided with the materials to explore them. Children may learn to read and write in their first year of school this way, but there is no pressure. Classmates who learn to read later, at six or seven, show no particular disadvantage and soon catch up.

Most schoolchildren don’t get any homework until they leave primary school. It’s unsurprising, a growing body of research suggests that homework for young children is a waste of time and has little or no benefit in enhancing learning or performance. Play, which is also a learning process, and having fun are considered more important here in the Low Countries than getting ahead academically.

According to the American National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, “Reading is the single most important skill necessary for a happy, productive and successful life. A child that is an excellent reader is a confident child and has a high level of self-esteem.” By not forcing children to read too early, reading becomes a pleasure, not a chore.

Joyful Illiterate Preschoolers

Rina’s three-year old Julius attends peuterspeelzaal (playschool) four times a week. At each session there are, at most, sixteen children, supervised by two teachers. Julius is shy and doesn’t talk much around strangers or in big groups, and is getting extra help to develop his language skills – but through play rather than formal instruction.

A typical session at playschool involves play, listening to stories, arts and crafts, and music. There’s no attempt to teach the letters of the alphabet or numbers. Dutch playschool revolves around children doing what they enjoy best – playing, and interacting with other children. Cool, calm Dutch moms seem to love the laid-back approach which the teachers assure them is the best for their kids.

A Dutch friend, Maria, who lives in San Francisco with her husband and six-year-old, muses, “Being an outsider, I’m constantly amazed at how American moms are different from Dutch moms. My mind is blown on a daily basis. There’s this preoccupation with reading at a young age – they believe that the ability for younger kids to learn to read and write and recognize numbers will somehow mean more success later in their academic life.”

Ottilie, another Dutch mom living in San Francisco, says, “Both my kids started reading ‘late’ – when they were almost seven. The school flagged them for reading help at the age of six, but I turned it down. I wanted to wait, since it’s thought normal in Holland that not all kids are ready to read at five or six. Then, when they were turned seven, they both started reading. They advanced super-fast and have since been avid readers, reading at higher levels than is standard for their grade. If they had had specialist help, that program would have received the credit for this. But I’m convinced that kids, as long as they don’t have dyslexia or other learning issues, will simply learn how to read when they are ready.”

“A six is enough”

In the Dutch approach to elementary school education, there is no top of the class to aspire to. The same is true of high schools in which pupils are streamed into different schooling types: vocational/professional/academic. Once you are in a particular stream, you need to score an average of six out of ten to stay at this level. Marks are deducted for mistakes and perfection (ten out of ten) is virtually unattainable. Most students score sixes and sevens. This is sufficient to secure their high school diplomas and a place at a university, college, or technical program after graduation. In a new study, only 18% of Dutch students said they were studying hard with an 8 [A] as their aim, one student quoted said, “I’d rather get a six and have no stress than a seven and have no life.” Only a small percentage make an eight average, and this is considered extremely high. Dutch scores are graded on a curve, so an individual score is relative to what everyone else scored.

In the academic stream, if students have made it through with a passing grade, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2017 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Education

Wow! A complete course in chess tactics, theory AND practice (problems included)

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Really a comprehensive job. This Open Culture post points out this amazing free resource. The Open Culture post also has links to free ebook downloads of the book.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2017 at 8:39 pm

Posted in Books, Chess

Charles Peters on Recapturing the Soul of the Democratic Party

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Paul Glastris writes in the Washington Monthly:

Most of us, as we get older, tell ourselves that we’ll keep working past age sixty-five, or at least use our skills and experience productively in retirement. That’s especially true of writers. But few of us will pull off what Charlie Peters has done. At ninety years old, Peters, my mentor and the founding editor of the Washington Monthly, has just published an important book on the central issue facing the country.

We Do Our Part is a history of how American political culture evolved from the communitarian patriotic liberalism of Peters’s New Deal youth to a get-mine conservatism in which someone like Donald Trump could be elected president. It’s a fall-from-grace story interlaced with Peters’s rich life experiences and generally consistent with the Greatest Generation narrative we’ve all come to know. The arguments and anecdotes will also be familiar to anyone who has read Peters’s previous books and the Tilting at Windmills column he wrote for so many years.

But as he told me when, as a young Washington Monthly editor, I groused about having to commission a version of a story we’d previously published, “there’s no sin in repeating the truth if the truth hasn’t sunk in yet.” The truth Peters aims to impart in this book is one that all Americans, and especially liberals, need to understand: An America in which the elite serves the interests of the majority isn’t a pipe dream. That world actually existed, in living memory. And there are signs, in the country’s reaction to the election of Donald Trump, that it could exist again.

Peters was a six-year-old in Charleston, West Virginia, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office at the height of the Great Depression. He remembers unemployed men, mostly from the outlying rural areas, selling apples on the street corners and knocking on the back door of his home asking for food. He also vividly remembers the popular culture of his youth—Spencer Tracy and Jimmy Stewart playing Average Joe heroes, comedies that mocked the pretensions of the rich. Over the course of the 1930s he saw the numbers of apple sellers and beggars decline as a result of New Deal policies that were crafted and implemented by thousands of idealistic bureaucrats who had poured into Washington to do their part for the country.

At seventeen, he caught a glimpse of the most brutal side of that era when the local police chief gave him a tour of the jail and, “trying to treat me as a man of the world, said he wanted to show me how they dealt with niggers. He opened a door to a closet that was full of bloody garments.” But soon after, as an Army draftee, Peters broke his back in basic training, and during several months spent recuperating in a racially integrated hospital ward saw signs of a more hopeful future. “Our laughter came so frequently and with enough volume that the nurses would tell us to quiet down. There was absolutely no racial tension. [It]…made you think of what could be.”

From there came Columbia University, law school at the University of Virginia, and a move home to Charleston to join his father’s law firm. In 1960 he ran for the state legislature while also helping lead John F. Kennedy’s presidential primary campaign in West Virginia. Both men won, and after a short time in the statehouse Peters, like the young New Dealers a generation earlier, went to Washington. There he ran evaluations for the newly founded Peace Corps, a job he held well into the Johnson administration.

In the standard telling, the decline of big government liberalism begins sometime around the Tet Offensive and the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. Peters fixes the date much earlier: 1946. That’s the year a number of senior advisers to the recently deceased FDR, people like Thurman Arnold and Abe Fortas, decided to become lobbyists. Few New Dealers had done this before, so the connections and insider knowledge these men possessed were rare and valuable. Arnold and Fortas grew rich and powerful—the advance guard of what would become a vast Washington industry.

Peters’s concern isn’t just with how lobbying corrupted the political process, though it certainly did that—Fortas, for instance, was denied the job of chief justice of the Supreme Court thanks to shady payments from a client-connected foundation—but more broadly with how it corrupted the incentives and worldview of those who came to Washington. Men like Fortas, a brilliant Yale Law School grad from a modest background who owned multiple homes and Rolls-Royces, set a new lifestyle standard in Washington. As more staffers and ex-congressmen followed the lobbying path, those still in government began to see their salaries, which they once considered comfortable, as penurious. (Eventually they became so, as all the high incomes bid up real estate prices and the local cost of living.)

This acquisitiveness was connected to another rising sin: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2017 at 12:53 pm

“The Evolution of Everything,” a must-read book

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I’ve been nattering on about meme evolution, but in The Evolution of Everything, Matt Ridley lays it out in detail, tracing the evolution of memes and other things. Evolution, in a word, is how the universe works. His chapter titles tell the story. Let TEO stand for “The Evolution of”. The chapters in order

TEO the Universe
TEO Morality
TEO Life
TEO Genes
TEO Culture [i.e., memes—and the rest are specific subcategories – LG]
TEO the Economy
TEO Technology
TEO the Mind
TEO Personality
TEO Education
TEO Population
TEO Leadership
TEO Government
TEO Religion
TEO Money
TEO the Internet
Epilogue: TEO the Future

The Prologue is well worth reading, and you can use Amazon’s “Look Inside Feature” to read it. Lucretius rightly is recognized as the origin of our thought in modern times, Lucretius having learned from Epicurus.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2017 at 8:10 pm

Publication order of book series

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OrderOfBooks.com is a good site for those who are compulsive about reading an author’s work chronologically and is even helpful (but not always accurate) when you want to read a series in order by the chronology of the story. Sometimes the chronology of publication matches the chronology of the story (e.g., in the wonderful Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin series of British Naval novels by Patrick O’Brian), but sometimes (as I explain in this post) the publication order is not the same as the story order: in Charles McCarry‘s series of Paul Christopher novels, The Secret Loves (1977) recounts events that precede The Tears of Autumn (1974) and thus should (IMO) be read after The Miernik Dossier (1973) and before The Tears of Autumn.

But that sort of nonsequential publication is relatively rare, so on the whole OrderOfBooks.com is a handy reference. The links above go to the author pages on that site.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2017 at 10:03 am

Posted in Books

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