Teaser Tuesday: The Shock Doctrine

Shock_doctrine_coverSocialism has figured large not only in the news but in my personal intellectual life lately.

First there was Bernie Sanders.

Then there was a conversation with a friend, about the merits of public versus private land ownership.

Then there was another conversation with the same friend, about public versus private funding for education.

And finally, I read Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pierwhich makes the case for socialism based on observations of the working class poor in northwest England.

So when I was looking for a new book to pick up, I thought it was time for one that’s been on my to-read list for a while: Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine. According to the Goodreads blurb, Klein makes the argument that corporations exploit national disasters such as Hurricane Katrina to “advance radical privatization,” undermining public schools and public safety nets, even if they have democratic support, in favour of corporately-sponsored ones.

I’m not very far into it yet, largely because it’s a grim read. But it is a compelling read, touching on questions such as whether we should export American economic theory to other countries and the extent to which the US government should fiddle with national industries. I hope to write at least one other post on it.

Till then, here’s the Teaser Tuesday blurb, from randomly-selected page 56:

The Keynesian revolution against laissez-faire was costing the corporate sector dearly. Clearly what was needed to regain lost ground was a counterrevolution against Keynesianism, a return to a form of capitalism even less regulated than before the Depression. This wasn’t a crusade that Wall Street itself could lead – not in the current climate. If Friedman’s close friend Walter Wriston, head of Citibank, had come forward and argued that the minimum wage and corporate taxes should both be abolished, he naturally would have been accused of being a robber baron. And that’s where the Chicago School came in. It quickly became clear that when Friedman, a brilliant mathematician and skilled debater, made those same arguments, they took on an entirely different quality. They might be dismissed as wrong-headed but they were imbued with an aura of scientific impartiality.

A Note on Teaser Tuesday: 

This is a new blog series I’ve been working on. It’s a fun, semi-weekly post in which I open whatever book I’m reading to a random page and share a few sentences from it. I originally heard of Teaser Tuesday through the blog Running in My Head, though it seems to have originated from the Books & a Beat Blog. Feel free to chime in via your own blog with whatever you’re currently reading.

 

Counting Costs, Part 2

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“Wealth: All I Ask for Is a Chance To Prove Money Can’t Buy Happiness.” from Demotivators

If you’ve been reading my blog for a few months, you know that I work hard to keep track of expenses. This is even more important for me since I’ve opened an IRA (yeah adulting!) and would prefer to save money instead of spending $16/month on gum.

With a new school year only a few days away, I’ve taken the time to plan out some “food rules” to keep my spending on food & household items in check, and still keep my house stocked with healthy snacks and meal items. Specifically, I wanted to keep myself from spending money on stuff that had little or no nutrition, like gum, and I wanted to keep myself from visiting the grocery too frequently, since like most people I usually wind up buying more than I intend to. I also wanted to streamline the grocery and meal planning process, since I’ll be very busy this year, and much as I enjoy cooking, I don’t want to spend thirty or forty minutes in the kitchen.

A new school year always feels to me like a brand-new start, as much a new beginning as the actual new year and a second great opportunity for resolutions.

So here’s the plan. A few new habits I want to develop:

  • I’m going to try a weekly grocery shopping trip, where I pick up most (not all!) supplies for the upcoming week. I’m thinking about Friday night, which I estimate is the night that Aldi’s is least likely to be crowded.
  • I’m going to actually plan meals, instead of deciding on the spot what I’m hungry for and what I have the ingredients for. Because I try to use up food that’s in my house but also don’t really plan meals, I’ve eaten some weird meals and also some repetitive meals (lots and lots of lentils!)
  • I’m going to limit my consumption of sweet stuff to a couple times a week. This is out of concern for my budget’s waistline, not my own. A veggie & chocolate loving runner, I’ve earned the nickname “rabbit with a sweet tooth,” and it’s important to me that I don’t put too big a chunk of money towards chocolate every month.

To go along with the goal of regular grocery shopping, I’ve put some thought into what I buy where. I’ve avoided Aldi’s in the past because invariably, I show up at the register with blackberries and a jar of peanut butter, and wind up waiting behind someone who is doing the grocery shopping for ten people for the next month! But if I figure out when Aldi’s is quiet and buy more than two things there, I can start stocking up on other, cheaper things as well.

From Aldi’s I plan to buy baking goods, coffee, cereal, eating chocolate, cheese, some fruit & veg (berries especially), canned goods, and flavoured drinks. Wal-Mart is the cheapest place I’ve found for toiletries and paper products, though, and there are a few things that are actually best purchased from Hy-Vee: bananas and apples, bought one at a time instead of in the huge bags that Aldi’s sells; bulk grains and pulses like lentils, and milk and yogurt.

I also have a couple new rules about what I’m going to keep out of my kitchen, and what I want to keep in it instead.

On the way out are things I eat way too quickly when they’re in the house: gum, candy-coated pretzels, chocolate-covered nuts, and trail mix (especially the kind with chocolate!).

On the way in are things I eat and enjoy for snacks, but at a reasonable pace: banana chips, baby carrots, hummus, pretzels or chips, non-caf tea, and (maybe) salted cashews.

One final goal that I’m not going to be dogmatic about: I’ve experimented with making yeast bread in the past and gotten much better at it. Rather than purchasing bread, I’m going to try to get in a rhythm of making it regularly, perhaps every two weeks, and freezing what I’m not going to eat immediately. I love bread and I love making it, so I want this to work! But it also takes time to make, and I want to be realistic about my goals.

As for why I’m doing all this: I enjoy food, preparing it and eating it. But I’ve caught myself putting too much thought into my supper plans in the past, when I should be putting more thought into lesson plans or into my future plans. I’ve caught myself expecting every meal to be fabulous when sometimes it just needs to be fuel, healthy and delicious but not so fancy as to take away from other responsibilities.

I have a few personal and professional goals this year that I think will be better accomplished if I discipline myself to spend less money buying food and less time preparing it.

We’ll see how this goes. Good luck to me! 🙂

On community, faith, & Marilynne Robinson

LilaTwo days ago, I stumbled across Alan Jacbos’s latest essay: “The Watchmen,” published at Harper’s. In a nutshell, it laments evangelicals’ disengagement from secular society, their climb into solitary towers of faith, and suggests that if we intend to have a true countercultural impact, we need to be willing to participate in the larger culture.

Jacobs make some interesting points, and I am looking forward to reading the responses from other intellectuals of faith. In this post, I want to nitpick: Jacobs insists towards the end of his essay that America’s current strongest believing writer, Marilynne Robinson, espouses an individualistic faith, one that contemplates the inner self rather than engaging with the community:

It is noteworthy how consistently inward and solitary the faith of the characters in Robinson’s novels is, including that of her most compelling creation, the elderly pastor John Ames in Gilead. The community of church is not a strong element in these people’s lives; they tend not to speak for anyone or anything more than themselves, and the conversations that they have about faith are mostly internal.

This is simply not true.

On the one hand, it is true that Robinson’s characters face conflicts which are nearly entirely internal: in Gilead, jealousy and suspicion of a black sheep returned to the community; in Home, a mistrust in God’s faithfulness and goodness in the face of family troubles.

Yet ultimately, the characters consistently come to terms with their conflicts through community. Only through community, in Robinson’s fiction, is redemption found.

This is most striking in comparing Robinson’s bookend novels: her first, Housekeeping, and her last, Lila. 

In Housekeeping, the central character grows up in a community where she never feels at home. With her mother dead, and her younger sister ever more estranged from her, Ruthie comes to identify with her vagabond aunt, Sylvie. The closer she grows to Sylvie, the further she grows from anything resembling an ordinary community life. She stops attending school, she stops speaking with the neighbours, she stops eating normal meals and keeping a normal house; magazines pile up across the kitchen table.

Although Ruthie and Sylvie flirt with the idea of participating in community rituals, as a way to prove that their family is sound and prevent the town from taking Ruthie away, they reject these ideas as too burdensome. Ruthie imagines “trudg[ing] to church through the snow in pillbox hats”, the verb indicating this is a difficult responsibility taken up unwillingly. Ruthie adds, “Those days [Sylvie] cast about constantly for ways to conform our lives to the expectation of others, or to what she guessed their expectations might be.”

To live in community, Ruthie implies, is to suppress individuality in pursuit of an identity which is always shifting. Not only are they required to “conform” to others’ expectations, they are not even sure what those expectations are, leaving them constantly changing, Proteus-like, in an effort to make themselves presentable to the little town where they live. In a novel published on the cusp of modernity, where individual identity and self-expression are inviolate, such life is unendurable.

Yet Ruthie is an unreliable narrator, her portrayal of community life not to be trusted. Certainly the life she takes up upon leaving town is no improvement. She and Sylvie burn down the family house, with all its heirlooms , and walk away from town in the middle of the night, crossing a high train trestle above the frozen lake where Ruthie’s mother committed suicide fifteen years previously. “We are drifters,” Ruthie tells the reader, adding that “once you have set your foot in that path, it is hard to imagine another one.”

Indeed, Ruthie’s life is barely human. Though from time to time she works in a local diner or truck stop, she does not drink the coffee or eat the food, asking “What have I to do with these ceremonies of sustenance, of nurturing?”

Rootless and drifting, Ruthie becomes a ghost upon her flight from community; the end of the novel is a kind of negative redemption, in which Ruthie finds herself, yes, but that self turns out to be empty and unmoored.

Contrast this with Lila. 

There, the main character starts the novel as a drifter. Born into an unloving family, she is stolen away by a woman named Doll. Doll saves her life, but she also brings Lila along when she joins a group of roaming sharecroppers. Lila does not attend school, does not have anything resembling an ordinary childhood; like Ruthie at the end of Housekeeping, she lives outside community norms.

Yet Lila moves in the opposite direction of Housekeeping, in that Lila is drawn away from her wanderings into community. Her entry into Gilead is a clear break with this kind of life: “She was there in Gilead,” the novel notes, “because once when she was walking along the road, probably hoping to get to Sioux City, tired of walking, tired of carrying her suitcase and her bedroll, she had noticed a little house sitting a way off by a cluster of cottonwood tress.” It is significant that her weariness with the vagabond life is what ties her to Gilead in the first place; the fact that she is “tired of walking” and “of carrying her suitcase and her bedroll” suggests the shortcomings of a life lived alone, of supporting oneself. Where Ruthie chooses a life of individuality, Lila finds too much individuality a burden.

And there in Gilead, Lila finds redemption. She lives outside the town for a while, then marries the preacher John Ames and has a son with him. While she imagines returning to her wanderings when Ames dies (he is older than she is), the truth is that she finds contendedness in abiding within the community, and its norms. “She could make a pretty good meat loaf now and a decent potato salad,” the novel notes; she takes joy in “this time, this waking up when the baby started fussing, this scrambling eggs and buttering toast in the new light of any day at all, geraniums in the windows, the old man with his doddering infant in his lap, propped against his arm, reading him the funny papers.”

Lila ultimately chooses a self shaped in obedience to community standards, the standards that she have a husband and child, that she be a tolerable cook. Yet unlike Ruthie, she finds pleasure in this version of herself; the imagery of bright morning light in this passage conveys that in submitting to communal norms, she has found pleasure, even grace. 

Of all the images, I find the garden most compelling. You cannot have a garden if you are perpetually on the move. I grow potted petunias every summer, yet even visiting with my family for a week threatens these; it is hard to keep them alive. That Lila is growing bright red geraniums suggests that she, like the flowers, is growing in a single place, the town of Gilead. Moreover, plants are associated with new life; consider Jesus’s parables of the seed falling into the ground and dying. Thus, Lila’s flowers work as a double metaphor, implying not only that she has learned to dwell in a community and be happy there, but also that the community has prompted a spiritual rebirth in her.

It is true that all of Robinson’s characters are introverts. Probably this is part of the reason that I, as an introvert, so enjoy her writing.

Yet it is not true, as Jacobs writes, that their faith is an altogether solitary thing. In reality, when one considers Robinson’s larger body of work, it is in community that we find redemption. To leave a community, she suggests, is to fall away from life. To come into a community is to come into grace. 

Indeed, as Lila’s cookery and gardening suggests, to experience grace it is important that we be willing to participate in community life. As we take up its everyday, ordinary burdens and responsibilities, Robinson implies, we find divine blessing.

So why does any of this matter? After all, Robinson’s novels are only an example in Jacobs’s larger essay; why bother correcting his interpretation?

For two reasons:

One, because Robinson’s portrayal of community has been encouraging to me, I hate to see it misrepresented. I want to correct the record. Robinson’s novels are populated with introverts, true, but they are introverts who find grace through community.

Two, and more seriously, Jacobs laments Robinson’s refusal to portray redemptive community as part of his larger point, that evangelicals decline to participate in secular culture as secular culture declines to appreciate evangelical community. He laments that characters do not have “conversations of faith,” nor do they engage in “church communities.” Perhaps this is unintentional, yet Jacob’s word choice here conveys to me the standard view of church community: a place defined by the four walls of the church building, and largely limited to the activities that happen, or at least originate, within those walls. To participate in church community is to attend Wednesday night Bible study and to serve at AWANA. It’s more important to host a prayer meeting than simply invite a few friends over for dinner.

Robinson’s novel Lila does not picture this flagrantly churchy kind of community, of course. Her community is much broader, encompassing not only the life of a particular church but the life of the home as well. But it is in that broader community life that Lila finds grace, and likewise, it is in a broad community life that we too will find grace, and that we will, as Jacobs desires, speak to our culture. 

I am in sympathy with Jacobs’s broader point, that we believers need to participate in culture in order to impact our community. Yet too often that participation is defined as either strictly religious, such as church Bible studies, or sweeping and dramatic, such as publishing a new book or leading a National Prayer Breakfast.

Robinson reminds us that real community impact need not be so dramatic, that if we never publish a book nor lead thousands of people to Christ, if we only cook and raise our families and love others, we can partake of grace, and share it with others.

 

The Night Before College

Summer is coming to an end, and so last Sunday, I made the nine-hour drive from my parents’ home in Kansas to my home in eastern Iowa. As I drove back towards my college teaching job, I found myself remembering the night before I left for college as a freshmen, twelve years ago.

I didn’t sleep well. The college I chose to attend was half a country away from my parents’ home, out in one of the Southeast states. We drove for two and a half days to reach it. We crossed seven states. The entire journey was more than a thousand miles. And when I got there, I knew almost no one.

The night before we left, we packed everything we could into the car and set the rest by the door, so we’d be ready to go for the morning. We ate a good supper. And then, right before bed, I stood at my parents’ sliding glass door and looked out into the twilight, eastwards across the fields.

My cousin Rebecca, traveling with us as a company for my younger sister, came up and asked me how I was feeling, whether I was ready.

I don’t recall what I answered or even if I had a good answer. Still, I’ve been thinking about that night, and that question, recently, as we gear up for a new school year. This year, my cousin Hannah is starting college. She and her mom are staying with me tonight, then tomorrow they’re moving her into the dorms. Like me, she’s moving a long ways from family for college, and I imagine she’s as anxious and uncertain as I was.

Western culture lacks the coming of age ceremonies that, in older civilizations, marked the break between childhood and adulthood, but the night before college comes close. That night is literally the last spent as a child under your parents’ roof, the last before you move out, take up the responsibilities of adulthood, and seek to build your own life. 

The night before you move away to college is the night before, as the saying goes, the first day of the rest of your life.

No wonder we’re anxious!

So if you’re moving away to college, a few words of encouragement:

You are going to change. You will develop new interests and new skills. When I left for college, I had just started reading fantasy novels; now I’ve taught a course on science fiction. When I left for college, I considered myself uncraftsy, and now I knit and bake bread. I considered myself unfashionable, and I probably was, judging from my hairstyle in the old photographs! But (thanks to my sister’s good taste!) I wear cute clothing now.

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Me in college (I’m on the right.). See what I mean about unfashionable hairstyles?

You’re going to become a much more interesting person, with a much richer life.

You will also become a better person.

The night before I left for college, I was pretty unaware of some of my personal flaws. I discovered those flaws pretty quickly at college. I was intolerant of other people’s messes and judgmental. I was naive and antisocial, preferring to study for tests two weeks in advance than spend time with other people. Now, twelve years in the future, I’m aware of those flaws and working on correcting them.

You will discover your flaws at college, but through the guidance of your new friends and your professors, and your parents’ advice (even over the phone), you will overcome them.

You will have to overcome a lot of other challenges too.

During college, I coped with the stress of bad roommates. During graduate school, I discovered I was a horrible teacher and taught myself to teach well. Since leaving graduate school, I’ve dealt with tight finances and with job rejections. I’m learning to keep a budget.

Adulting is hard, but you’ll learn. Regardless of what challenges you face, whether they be health challenges or money challenges or work challenges, you will get through them.

And you’ll have a lot of fun along the way. 

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International Talk Like a Pirate Day

As I’ve been writing this post, I’ve been looking through old photographs and recalling some of the memories I made on my own, after I moved away to college. I spent a summer in China and another one in Germany, and later I lived in the Czech Republic for six months. I visited the Kansas City Renaissance Festival with friends from graduate school, and with friends from Iowa, I visited Chicago and Madison and the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk. I discovered that International Talk Like a Pirate Day is a thing and started dressing up in a piratical costume for class once a year.

So yes, adult life is hard. But don’t let your anxiety get the best of you, because adult life is a lot of fun, too! You have so many good memories to make. 

And most importantly, you will see God’s grace at work.

In my experience, grace is not something I see working in the moment. Grace is best seen from a distance.

When I think back to college, to give just one example, I realize how reclusive I was, how snotty; only in the years since then have I become more patient, more kind, and generous. (Please don’t think I’m praising myself! The truth is, I have a long ways still to go.) But the point is, when I compare the person I am now to the person I was in college, I can see that I’ve changed, even if I wasn’t aware of the change happening in the moment. I chalk this up to grace: God, behind the scenes, working patiently with me over a long period of time.

And perhaps this is the most encouraging thing of all: that God is indeed patient, and will always be gracious.

A lot will change when you start college. You will change. You will face scary things. But through everything, God will be with you, patiently working with you, making you like Him.

Welcome to adulthood.

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Teaser Tuesday: The Mysterious Benedict Society

510cd0w1aULIt’s time for Teaser Tuesday!

This week I’m in the middle of The Mysterious Benedict Society, a YA (or at least middle-school) book that I’m thoroughly enjoying because it avoids the stereotype of the angsty teenager who saves the world through mad battle skills, ala Katniss Everdeen.

The Mysterious Benedict Society doesn’t do that, thankfully. It has four characters, all around eleven years old, and while I expect that they will indeed save the world, none are particularly angsty, nor do they have mad battle skills. They’re fairly ordinary, they’re friends, and I’d enjoy befriending them in real life. Its plot is interesting and fairly creative, and it reads easily.

Here’s a short selection, right when the plot really starts picking up:

The unseen child – it sounded like a girl about Kate’s age – spoke in a plodding, whispering monotone, her voice half-drowned in static. At first only a few random words were clear enough to be understood: “Market . . . to free to be . . . obfuscate . . . ” Number Two typed more commands into the computer; the interference lessened considerably, and the child’s words came clearly now, slipping through the faint static in a slow drone:

“The missing aren’t missing, they’re only departed. 

All minds keep all thoughts – so like gold – closely guarded . . . . “

Again the words were overcome by static.

Here’s the Goodreads blurb.

Nota bene: When I first wrote out this post, I accidentally typed the title as The Mysterious Benedict *Option*. Whoops!

Wondering what Teaser Tuesday is? It’s a fun, weekly post in which I open whatever book I’m reading to a (somewhat) random page and share a few sentences from it. I originally heard of Teaser Tuesday through the blog Running in My Head, though it seems to have originated from the Books & a Beat Blog. Feel free to chime in via your own blog with whatever you’re currently reading.

How to Be Single

I recently stumbled across this excellent Mental Floss post, a collection of tips from then-editor of Vogue, Marjorie Hill, for being single in the 1930s. Some of my favourites:

1. Take Care of Yourself

“You have got to decide what kind of a life you want and then make it for yourself. You may think that you must do that anyway, but husbands and families modify the need considerably,” Hill explains.

Mental Floss adds: “Go out and buy that toolbox and step ladder now. You’ll need it.”

The spunk and grit of this rule appeals to me. If you want something to happen, make it happen. We women are not helpless without men. I may have to call my landlord to move in my new refrigerator, of course, but I can unclog my drains and open jars on my own!

4. Host Parties. 

Mental Floss writes, “in the ‘30s, social mores dictated that if you got invited out, you needed to return the invitation, or people would stop hosting you. While we no longer practice precise tit-for-tat party hosting, it’s true that the easiest way to get yourself to a party is to throw one.”

I’d add that not only does throwing parties spice up your social life, it also makes your house more homey.  As a single woman, I’ve learned that unless I’m careful, it’s easy for my apartment to become my fortress: a place where I retreat after work, shutting out the world. That’s not a home.

A home is (partly) defined as a place where we show hospitality, and married people need not have a monopoly on this. I do what I can to invite people in: bringing friends over for lunch or supper, or crowding a few students onto my tiny couch for a movie night.

7. Make Your Bed Luxurious. 

“Hill,” Mental Floss writes,  “was a big fan of the “treat yourself” lifestyle, encouraging women to buy fashionable clothes (even if no one was home to see), fresh flowers, and stylish furniture, even if most of it came from the thrift store. And she was a really, really big fan of getting all dolled up and going straight back to bed.”

The idea that single people should “treat themselves” to the fine things in life goes along with the final tip listed in the Mental Floss article:

9. Eat Well. 

I love the way these final two tips celebrate beauty: gorgeous flowers, delicious food, comfortable bedding. The way our society is set up to privilege marriage, it’s easy to put the finer things in love off until marriage: No fancy ring until the engagement, no fine china until the wedding registry, an old T-shirt instead of a fancy nightie, and cereal for supper since nobody is there to enjoy good cooking.

But the truth is, this way of living is boring. We were made to enjoy beauty, and so why wait until marriage to enjoy lovely rings and yummy suppers?

A friend of mine is making plans to purchase a fancy ring for herself to celebrate a life milestone, perhaps her PhD graduation. Another friend purchased fancy nighties for herself long before she married her husband, simply because they helped her feel more feminine. I cook, if not elaborate meals, at least thoughtful and delicious ones, because I like good food.

Ultimately, I think these final two tips get at what I love about the Mental Floss list: living successfully as a single is about being proactive, and making for ourselves the kind of life we want.

facebook_-1636470038We tend to picture the ideal life as involving a significant other. When you’re married, then you take exciting vacations (a honeymoon!) and buy gorgeous new furniture. When you’re married, you have someone to help you meet new people. When you’re married, you have someone to raise children with, someone to build a family with and find the true meaning of life. But if you’re single, get used to spending Friday nights alone with six cats.

As single women, it’s important to remember that these pictures are just stereotypes. If there’s something you want, go get it. Don’t wait for a husband. I take myself on dates to the ice cream shop or to the movies, because if I waited for a man (or even a friend!) to take me, I’d be waiting a long time. I haven’t been on a honeymoon, but I’ve been on several pretty cool vacations because I’m willing to go alone. I was traveling through the Southwest this summer and met a guy with the same philosophy, taking a ten-day road trip from L.A. through Arizona and New Mexico, up to North Dakota, and home again, on his own because he was done waiting for his friends to get on board.

Contentment doesn’t mean that we accept a colorless life without a fight. Contentment means that we make the most of the life we have, enjoying the things that God has given us to enjoy.

And importantly, being proactive in our singleness applies to our spiritual life as well. In the church, we tend to pinpoint marriage as the start of real fruitfulness: That’s when we women can fulfill our God-given nurturing qualities, we’re told, and that’s when we can start building a family to change the world for Christ.

But this is not true. We are complete in Christ, equally capable of living an abundant and fruitful spiritual life. I may not have a husband to whom I am committed, but I can show commitment to my relationships at church and in my friendships. I may not have the responsibilities of marriage to make me disciplined, but I have the responsibility of a quiet house to make me disciplined instead. I may not have biological children, but I can nurture my fellow believers, my neighbours, and my students.

The point is, there’s a widespread assumption that life, whether ordinary or spiritual, starts with marriage. It doesn’t. Life has already started, and we singles need to live it with gusto.

Carpe diem. 

 

 

 

 

Friday (Non)Fiction: The Road to Wigan Pier

583edc16de6548054a01a39f9273a56fOn Tuesday I was completely swamped with some professional stuff. So this is my Teaser Tuesday post, three days late.

Currently I’m reading George Orwell’s excellent work, The Road to Wigan Pier. In the first half of this book, Orwell describes his first-hand observations of the living and working conditions of the poor in Northern England. In the second, he argues on the basis of those observations in favour of Socialism. (Yes, that George Orwell. We misread 1984 all the time. Its author was actually a socialist, though perhaps not in the way we use the term.)

In any case, The Road to Wigan Pier is excellent: crisp, precise diction, startlingly funny, clear description. I find this book thoroughly enjoyable and applicable, as relevant to 2016 America as to 1937 Great Britain.

Because the book exists in two parts, I’ve chosen two selections from it.

From the first section, on page 25:

Before I had been down a mine I had vaguely imagined the miner stepping out of the cage and getting to work on a ledge of coal a few yards away. I had not realised that before he even gets to his work he may have to creep through passages as long as from London Bridge to Oxford Circus. In the beginning of course a mine shaft is sunk somewhere near a seam of coal. But as that seam is worked out and fresh seams are followed up, the workings get further and further from the pit bottom. If it is a mile from the pit bottom to the coal face, that is probably an average distance; three miles is a fairly normal one; there are even said to be a few mines where it is as much as five miles.

And from the second, on page 136, comes this excerpt. This one gives a taste of the personal tone and ironical humour that occasionally breaks through the serious social and political thought that Orwell works through in this book:

I still don’t like drinking out of a cup or bottle after another person – another man, I mean: with women  I don’t mind – but at least the question of class does not enter. It was rubbing shoulders with the tramps that cured me of it. Tramps are not really very dirty as English people go, but they have the name for being dirty, and when you have shared a bed with a tramp and drunk tea out of the same snuff-tin, you feel that you have seen the worst and the worst has no terrors for you.

Read the book. You can find a fuller description here at Goodreads.