Outside Reading — Big Lie Country edition

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Falsehoods Meddle in Humble Bid to Honor Past by Reid J. Epstein

The news story out of Montana is an object lesson in the way right-wing brain worms have demolished the ability to get the simplest public works accomplished. A woman with too much time on her hands, and a pathetic need to pick a fight, rails against an attempt to establish a large National Heritage Area in the state, basically getting free money from the feds to boost tourism in an area otherwise wanting for visitors. With an unsupportable position, she flagrantly lies about the effects of the longstanding, utterly uncontroversial proposal, and Republican officials in the state quickly cave to her lunatic rantings, passing unenforceable legislation that bars the establishment of federal heritage areas (federal laws supersede state laws, folks). Reporting for The New York Times, Reid J. Epstein details the many ways that the aggrieved embrace of falsehoods have permanently damaged the psyches of people who feed their worldviews with conservative poison all the livelong day.

The Cancellation Scam by Zeba Blay

With cutting accuracy, Zeba Blay surveys the current state of cheap fear-mongering on the part of comedians, commentators, and other performers, exemplified by Dave Chapelle’s recent claims of suppression on the basis of some hateful commentary he dispenses in the guise of jokes in his recent Netflix special. It’s all a scam, of course — so much phony umbrage at the very reaction Chapelle hoped to get as he slung his retrograde views into the thunderdome of nonstop public discourse. This article is published by Jezebel.

Mike Nichols: A Life (2021) by Mark Harris

I found Mark Harris’s biography of Mike Nichols to be an unqualified delight. As with Dave Itzkoff’s book on Robin Williams, I found it compulsively readable in part because I the knowledge to know what entry in the filmography was coming next (“Well, I can’t put it down when I’m about to get to the chapter about The Day of the Dolphin.”) Blessed with a subject of uncommon wit and intelligence, Harris rarely has to go more than a few pages without a wickedly funny anecdote, and he has a keen sense of which details will illuminate something about Nichols’s personality and the keep the book hurtling forward. If nothing else, I’m inordinately pleased to have one of my all-time favorite Hollywood stories — centered on Nichols explaining to Robert Redford why he wasn’t right for the role of Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate — printed on paper and bound in a volume that I can keep on my shelf to reference any old time I like. Maybe the only disappointment is that I can’t immediately dive into a similarly focused and artistically attuned work on Elaine May, Nichols’s one-time comedy partner who looms large as a trusted collaborator throughout his career. Luckily, I know that book is on the way. It will look nice on the shelf next to Mike Nichols: A Life.

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