What I’m Reading Now

Much more reading than writing lately at the home office, which is counterproductive to bloggifying. Here are some highlights. Extended commentary forthcoming. Perhaps.

Have a wonderful weekend!

First up: I am about 20 concentrated minutes away from finishing Sheila Heti’s The Middle Stories.

Humsmackadoody! It’s amazing. To say distilled postmodern fairy tales would be grossly mis-stating the power of the book, though it would offer some measure of helpful description. I will review it more formally next week. Read it this weekend! Catch up with me! I double dog dare you!

I also read this gorgeous review of Chabon’s new book, Telegraph Avenue. I used to flitter along that street when I was a young thinker. Street jewelry, two dollar pizza, incense in the gutter. The street ends (begins?) at the UC Berkeley student union.

In Telegraph Avenue, Gwen recalls Julie explaining two science-fiction visions: terraforming and pantropy, two ways to colonize a new planet. Terraforming is changing a planet’s atmosphere and environment to suit physical human needs. Pantropy uses the opposite approach: altering “the human form and mind to allow survival, even prosperity, on a harsh, unforgiving world.” This strikes Gwen as an apt metaphor for African-Americans attempting to survive in the hostile planet that the United States has been for so long:

In the struggle to thrive and flourish on the planet of America, some black people had opted for the epic tragedy, grand and bitter, of terraforming; others, like Gwen’s parents and their parents and grandparents before them, had engaged in a long and selective program of pantropy. Black pantropy had produced, in Gwen and her brothers, a clutch of viable and effortless success-breathers, able to soar and bank on thermals of opportunity and defy the killing gravity of the colony world.

If there is something a little unsettling in this easygoing description of so many centuries of pain, there is also something bracing in the reimagining of blacks colonizing the lesser beings of planet United States.

Confusingly, the reviewer, Cathleen Schine, begins by praising Chabon’s depiction of wimmins in the book, but concludes by praising him for making women another object in his cabinet of curios.

In Telegraph Avenue, women have the solidity and strength of objects. Not objects of desire. Not objects of love. Not objects of need. Just objects, to be examined and explored like all the other objects of Chabon’s fascination.

Say what? I’ll have to read it myself to see what the cluck this reviewer could mean by that.

Moving on.

This Atlantic magazine piece on redistricting is required reading for any good citizen. I’m not finished with it yet.

However, I did finish this other article, in the same magazine, which made me chortle cynically. It’s about vigilante citizen poll cops, valiantly rooting out nonexistant voter fraud in terrifyingly leftish districts.

About halfway through the training, a balding, portly man named Lou D’Abbraccio, who sits on the board of the Racine County GOP and runs its poll-watcher program, enters the room and explains that he will be assigning trainees to polling places. “We are going to focus on those that have the most history of issues,” he says. “And that may be because of the people that work at that particular polling location. It may be just because it’s a heavily skewed Democratic ward.”

After that, Zinn and D’Abbraccio reel off a litany of dangers facing poll observers.

“I don’t want to scare you,” Zinn says, “but if you’ve got your own food, water, and medicine …”

“You do want to be self-sufficient,” D’Abbraccio adds. “I’m not saying anybody has ever been poisoned, but …”

“Even watch out for things like restrooms that lock from the outside,” interjects a True the Vote trainer from California. “We’ve had poll observers locked into the restroom.” One of the trainees gasps.

“This is shocking to you as well as us, because our minds don’t work this way,” Zinn says. “But they have all these little tricks up their sleeve.”

At a different meeting, a rally of some sort, one of the polling patrol volunteers talks about the “evil” at work in Democratic district polling places. Evil. The opposite of God. Literally. When people want to vote for the Democratic party.

And just for kicks, a brief note about undecided voters. They just don’t care.

Recognizing that undecided voters are mostly uninterested voters helps to clarify the trajectory of the presidential campaign. In their book “The Timeline of Presidential Elections,” Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezien show that voter preferences tend to be very stable in the fall, but that campaign observers — the authors analyze people betting money in online political prediction markets — tend to assume those preferences are far more volatile.

I have been registering voters outside of grocery stores and cafes and the like. 95% of those I encounter are already registered (perhaps reflecting more the nature of my district than the devotion of our citizenry to exercising their most important American right). Roughly 2.67% are grateful for the convenient opportunity to update their registration, which they were planning to do anyway. And then 2.33% are borderline hostile in their indifference to this year’s election. “We’re screwed either way.”

Okay then. As they say in Ireland, fair play to you.

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