Outside Reading — Misty Watercolor Memories edition

The Year Has Taught Me a Lot About Nostalgia by Leslie Jamison

Writing for The New York Times, as part of a set of reflections on one full year of living with the pandemic, Leslie Jamison pointedly addresses the problematic longing for a “return to normal.” As others have noted, the health crisis — and other social discord happening in parallel — have exposed flaws in our system that should be fixed. That those flaws disproportionately harm people who for reasons of race, cultural background, and class have largely been absent from the halls of power, in in advocacy roles, only makes the need for change all the more urgent. Jamison draws on research and her own experiences to explain how all of our have to look outside of ourselves to think about how we can move forward in a way that is equitable for all.

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Clean Hands by Anand Gopal

This article appeared a few months ago in The New Yorker. Because I’m perpetually behind, I just caught up with it. Ostensibly a review of Asymmetric Killing: Risk Avoidance, Just War, and the Warrior Ethos, a book by Neil C. Renic, Anand Gopal’s piece is a broad rumination on the nature of war itself, with special attention paid to the recurring attempts to impose shared rules on the act of engaging in murder to solve geopolitical dilemmas. Renic’s words are rightly laced with fury, and it’s difficult to come away from this article without a sense that humanity should be working harder to bring all warfare to a permanent end.

We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Legend and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Film (2017) by Noah Isenberg

Noah Isenberg goes deep into the lore and mystique of Casablanca, arguably the pinnacle of classic moviemaking done in the Hollywood studio system model. (Citizen Kane, released one year earlier, was its own unique beast, more a precursor to the way movies are made now than an adherent to the picture factory approach of its day.) The book is at its best when Isenberg is proving that he turned every page in the archives, deducing which writers contributes certain elements to the script and debunking some of the myths that have developed around the film, including the supposed close-call casting of Ronald Reagan in the leading role of Rick Blaine. Isenberg sometimes gets a little repetitive with his factoids, and the afterlife explication promised by the subtitle really peters out in the final chapter, which recounts several instances of the film being evoked in other pop culture, such as The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live, without offering any insight beyond amusement at spotting the familiar.

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