Outside Reading — Using Words Wisely edition


The “Cancel Culture” Con by Osita Nwanevu

Prompted by Dave Chapelle’s wrong-headed defense of Michael Jackson in his new Netflix special and the immediate dismissal of a new Saturday Night Live cast member after the exposure of his blatant, repeated, and remarkably recent use of bigoted language, Osita Nwanevu writes about the nonsense of lamenting the so-called “cancel culture.” The article draws clear, informative boundaries between genuinely oppressed speech and the condemnable commentary and actions of people who deserve ill repercussions and then wail about it when justice is served. Freedom of speech isn’t a guarantee of amplification, especially in businesses that rely on social goodwill to remain viable. Nwanevu’s piece is published by New Republic.


Canadian teen tells UN ‘warrior up’ to protect water by Melissa Kent


Greta Thunberg has understandably received a sizable amount of attention and praise (and venomous hatred from the usual suspects), but she’s not the only teen who’s standing up and insisting her future not be scorched away by the heartless unwillingness of our current leaders to solve problems, just because the solutions might cause minor inconveniences for the obscenely wealthy. Writing for CBC News, Melissa Kent profiles Autumn Peltier, a young member of the Wikwemikong First Nation. Peltier makes a compelling argument for the sanctity of water, positioning it as a basic human right. This isn’t a battle a thirteen-year-old should have to wage, but I’m grateful she’s doing it.


Train Dreams (2002) by Denis Johnson


Originally published in The Paris Review and released as slender novella several years later, Denis Johnson’s starkly lovely work of fiction is tender and soulful. A western in the Cormac McCarthy mode (as opposed to, say, the Zane Grey mode), Train Dreams follows its protagonist through decades of life, spanning from the nineteenth century well into the twentieth. It is an existence tinged by tragedy, but mostly defined by the smallness of its scale, even as the odometer of years spins ever higher. Johnson’s language is tight and precise, conjuring sweeps of emotion with just a few words. Train Dreams is richer and more resonant than far weightier tomes dripping in ambition. It is a tremendous piece of writing, fierce proof of the abiding power of wise, empathetic fiction.

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