Adding to the general hand-wringing over the state of the humanities, Lee Siegel contradicts Leon Wieseltier’s lament that fewer college students are majoring in literature by contending that modern literature courses ruin the joy of reading. “For every college professor who made Shakespeare or Lawrence come alive for the lucky few,” he writes, “there were countless others who made the reading of literary masterpieces seem like two hours in the periodontist’s chair.” (You can also read a similar argument from a humanities professor in The New Republic.)
Jeff Vandermeer‘s Southern Reach trilogy: a genuinely weird work of ecological fiction, a hyper-object, or a strangely beautiful “glimpse of a whole that’s, by its nature, unknowable”? Joshua Rothman argues for all three in a review for The New Yorker. For more from Vandermeer himself, check out his Millions interview with Richard House, author of The Kills.
The word “cool” has been cool for more than 70 years. At Slate, Carl Wilson examines why this slang stuck, and how it’s evolved from being used by beatniks to smartphone companies. “Cool is an attitude that allows detached assessment, but one that prizes an air of knowingness over specific knowledge. I think that’s why it doesn’t become dated, unlike hotter-running expressions of enthusiasm like groovy or rad.” Pair with: Michael Agger’s essay on why we love the “cool story, bro” meme.
At least two people were not pleased with John Jeremiah Sullivan’s recent cover story in the New York Times Magazine. In a letter to the New York Observer (and an expanded post on Google+), Susannah McCormick – daughter of renowned music historian Robert “Mack” McCormick – alleges that Sullivan and his research assistant “glibly” stole her father’s research in an act of “quasi theft.” In his response, Sullivan asserts that, “by hiding L. V. Thomas’s voice, by refusing for over half a century to credit or even so much as name the two singers who created those recordings while they or their contemporaries were alive, Mack McCormick committed a theft—through negligence or writer’s block or whatever reasons of his own—far graver than my citation of interviews L.V. granted him decades ago.”