What is a unicorn? It is my four-year-old daughter’s favorite animal, the one most likely to adorn her clothing these days. And the availability of unicorn-printed dresses, pants, socks, sweaters, and more all around suggests that this is not just her obsession, but that of many a little girl around.
But a unicorn is more than that. This mythical creature has come to mean in our everyday parlance something—anything—that is rarely seen. Quirky, unusual, unexpected in some way that makes it a must read. But the English tongue has its own quirks, and one delightful one involves the different words that describe a gathering of many animals of the same type, as this helpful A to Z list shows: a cauldron of bats, a sloth of bears, a murder of crows, a convocation of eagles, a barrel of monkeys (yes, really). And most important for this weekly newsletter, although not included on that A-to-Z list, a blessing of unicorns.
I hope that this weekly roundup of unusual reads that have caught my eye over the preceding week is a blessing upon your Saturday.
Many thanks to Brian Scoles for recommending this definite unicorn: “It Never Ends: The Book Club That Spent 28 Years Reading Finnegans Wake.” A taste:
For a quarter century, Gerry Fialka, an experimental film-maker from Venice, California, has hosted a book club devoted to a single text: James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, one of the most famously difficult texts in literary history.
Starting in 1995, between 10 and 30 people would show up to monthly meetings at a local library. At first they read two pages a month, eventually slowing to just one page per discussion. At that pace, the group – which now meets on Zoom – reached the final page in October. It took them 28 years.
That amount of time “could well be a record”, said Sam Slote, a Joyce expert at Trinity College, Dublin, and one of the editors of How Joyce Wrote Finnegans Wake. His own weekly Wake group in Dublin, which is made up of about a dozen Joyce scholars, is on track to read through the text in a brisk 15 years.
Philosopher Christian Miller has been doing exciting work on the virtues–most recently, honesty. Check out this excerpt from his book on honesty, this week at the John Templeton Foundation. A small taste:
So what is honesty? It is a character trait that leads us to think, feel and act in honest ways. Let’s focus on the acting for a moment. Naturally, honesty stands in contrast to lying. But it is much broader in scope than that. It also is opposed to cheating, stealing, promise breaking, misleading, bullshitting, hypocrisy, self-deception, and still other forms of wrongdoing. It works against all of them, and so is extremely broad and impactful in scope.
What do all these behaviours have in common? What is at the core of honesty that enables it to cover so much moral ground? The answer, I think, is that honest behaviour is a matter of not intentionally distorting the facts as the honest person sees them.
Ivana Greco, a Harvard J.D. who left her career as a lawyer during the pandemic to become a homeschool mom, has a really wonderful podcast conversation this week with Jessica Kramer and Patrick Brown. Check it out here: Is Childcare Policy Being Made For The Child Or The Man-Child? – The Based Catholic | Podcast on Spotify
While the podcast title is “The Based Catholic,” the conversation pertains to all of us in the U.S. today. A description of the conversation:
Ivana Greco dives into what the mainstream consensus is when it comes to who will watch the baby, comparing it to the Washington, D.C. foreign policy blob… This is part two of a two part series attempting to reframe the childcare debates… instead of asking, “What can we do to help working mothers? Let’s start with asking, “What’s best for the child? What’s best for the family?”
This week’s Fairer Disputations feature article, Felix James Miller’s “Of Tradwives and Men” considers a related issue: gender roles at home. A taste:
Anyone trying to understand contemporary sexual politics (or to find household tips on YouTube or TikTok) has probably stumbled across them: tradwives. Short for “traditional wife,” the tradwife influencer is a married woman who models her life on what she takes to be a “traditional” vision of married life, usually inspired by midcentury housewives, often sharing housekeeping tips and relationship advice via TikTok and YouTube videos.
Critiques of tradwife-ism abound. Some, predictably, assert that tradwives are tools of white supremacy, while others convincingly argue that the tradwife’s vision of “tradition” has less to do with centuries-old ways of life than it has to do with the peculiarities of 1950’s America. My concern in this essay is rather different: the low view tradwifery takes of what it is to be a husband.
As thinkers from St. Paul to Mary Wollstonecraft have argued, marriage ought to serve both as a barricade against vice and a school of virtue. Marriage and family life should be a shared project, and housework and homemaking need not be the exclusive province of women.
Although tradwives may seem to be honoring their husbands, in reality, they expect far too little of them. Married men should aspire to a demanding, self-sacrificial vision of service, not the cushy, entitled life as a master tradwifery would seem to offer. By responding to the needs of their wives and children—which, in most cases, includes participating in the work of the home—husbands, too, can grow in the practice of the virtues.
Reading this essay, I was thinking with gratitude how Dan does 99% of the cleaning in our home—and, I believe, this is one of THE secrets to a happy marriage.
Punctured Lines—a blog of “Post-Soviet Literature in and outside the Former Soviet Union” has become a part of my regular reading both for the books coverage and for the truly gorgeous writing. This week, I loved Jane Muschenetz’s essay “Vinegret, A Recipe for Disaster.” Here’s the opening paragraph as a taste (and go read it in full!):
I want to tell you something small, in the great turning of this world, intimate as your grandmother’s soup. When you boil beets, carrots, and potatoes together, the potatoes will soften first, even if they are bigger than the other vegetables.
Elizabeth Stice makes Mondays at the Arena a delight each week. But this week, you can also enjoy her newest piece from Front Porch Republic—a review of the new print magazine, County Highway. A taste:
If you haven’t heard of County Highway, it’s a new periodical. It only appears in print. It comes out six times per year. According to the magazine, it “is a 20-page broadsheet produced by actual human beings, containing the best new writing you will encounter about America. It features reports on the political and spiritual crises that are gripping our country and their deeper cultural and historical sources; regular columns about agriculture, civil liberties, animals, herbal medicine, and living off the grid, mentally and physically; essays about literature and art, and an entire section devoted to music.” It comes to you in the mail.
The most interesting thing about County Highway is the age it evokes. The look is nineteenth century, but that is not the age that County Highway celebrates. Rather, everything about it feels late 20th century.
You can imagine the brainstorming for County Highway: “Remember when Rolling Stone was cool?” “Remember when you could say whatever you want, like the early days of National Lampoon magazine?” County Highway is, like Thompson, a bit transgressive. And so the mood is not just that mules are interesting and that grain matters, but that Bill and Hillary should be mocked (take that, coastal elites), and also that Taylor Swift is “neither a brilliant singer nor a gifted dancer” though she can write “memorable lines and couplets” (take that, mainstream normies). You can’t trust the CIA and you should be able to shoot guns, and you should be able to enjoy the White Trash Cookbook without the PC police bugging you, but people really should unionize and please don’t send your kids to conservative schools. Jonah Raskin opens his piece assuring us that “if you were alive and paying attention to the world in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as I was, you would have loved Abbie Hoffman.” The project is a little bit renegade.
Finally, last week I included an old favorite from the Current vault. I rather like this idea of bumping back up old essays that are beautiful and significant in various ways. So, doing it again this week. Join me in (re)reading Current Contributing Editor’s Timothy Larsen’s beautiful essay “Puritan Passions” about the life and poetry of Anne Bradstreet. Thanksgiving, after all, is the season when we think about Puritans and the first Thanksgiving.
Speaking of The First Thanksgiving, that is the title of a delightful book by historian (and Tim Larsen’s colleague at Wheaton College), Tracy McKenzie. Highly recommend.