Outside Reading — The Human Dust-Bowl edition

THE DIRT ON PIG-PEN by Elif Batuman

Writing for Astra, Elif Batuman explores the history of the Peanuts character who travels with his own trailing cloud. I’m always fond of cultural commentary that convincingly applies broader social theory to seemingly innocuous story elements, and Batuman brings a sharper eye and keener sense of humor to the exercise than most. She also shares some very basic facts that I didn’t know, such as Charles M. Schulz’s dissatisfaction over the popularity of Pig-Pen that led to the character essentially disappearing from the strip for around a decade.

Movement That Insists Best Thing for Us to Do Is to Slowly Go Extinct by Cara Buckley

For The New York Times, Cara Buckley profiles Les Knight, who’s been a longtime advocate for voluntary human extinction specifically because he and others have correctly identified human beings as the most disruptive force to everything else on the planet. To a degree, the story is framed the same way as almost all coverage of Knight and his cohorts, with a strong get-a-load-of-these-guys amusement. Still, as the newspaper’s climate reporter, Buckley can also clearly see the points Knight is making, and she carries it forward to the reader in an uncommonly honest, sympathetic manner.

This Holiday, I’m Going to a Gay Bar by Lauren Hough

Lauren Hough’s editorial is full of fury, but also valuable context. Although some of the news coverage of the gun lobby–enabled murders at Club Q has acknowledged the vile right-wing rhetoric that actively encouraged the shooter’s crime, Hough goes further to point out that the nightclub is in the same city as James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, an organization with a long history of propagating hate against the LGBTQ+ community. Club Q, like Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, was supposed to be a safe space, deliberately constructed to guard those in attendance from the reactionary cruelty of fragile bigots. Hough’s driving thesis is a defiance against those who would take those spaces away. This piece is published by The New York Times.

Either/Or (2022) by Elif Batuman

And we circle back to Batuman. Either/Or continues the story Batuman started in the 2017 novel The Idiot, following Selin Karadağ through her sophomore year of college. Fittingly, the book is a little like a second year traversing the halls of higher education: the shock of new is gone but the overall endpoint feels strangely distant, which makes everything happening feel a little aimless. The narrative does eventually lock in on the sexual awakening of the lead character, presented as a series of encounters that gradually diminish in their frustrating and mild indignity, a depiction I suspect will be relatable for many. As before, Batuman’s greatest strength is her impeccable gift for written comedy. While staying devotedly true to the reality of characters and the situations they move through, Batumn includes perfectly structured observational humor throughout. I laughed out loud at every page, which is a rarity for me.

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