The Joys of Gladstone, the Return of Kenny G, and the Sounds of a Stradivarius
Stephen King makes a comment on Twitter that would have been so uncontroversial as to be banal at almost any other point in human history but is now “problematic.” What did he say? This: “I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality.” The usual suspects struck, of course. There’s Roxane Gay, who jumps to the illogical conclusion that King’s remark “implies that diversity and quality cannot be synonymous.” And director Ava DuVernay, who calls King’s remark “backward and ignorant.”
Oh, dear. What’s so ignorant about saying that quality matters most of all in art? Unless, of course, there is no such thing as “quality,” which is, at best, a grab bag of culturally-determined preferences and, at worst, a word white guys use to shut out minorities. I’m guessing most critics of King probably think something like this. To be preoccupied with “diversity,” however, is to be preoccupied with the one truth that apparently isn’t culturally determined and that necessarily matters above all. Plus, it has the advantage of being easy to calculate. Almost no thinking or taste is required.
In other news, Alexander Larman writes about the joys of the Gladstone Library: “Gladstone’s Library began as that most English of things: a great man’s visionary idea. William Gladstone, at the age of 85, decided that he had amassed too many books, and wanted to share them with the less fortunate. As his daughter Mary put it: ‘He wished to bring together books who had no readers with readers who had no books.’ He duly spent £40,000 of his own money on founding and building the library that bore his name, carrying 32,000 of his own volumes three-quarters of a mile between his home, Hawarden Castle in Flintshire, Wales, and the temporary structure that housed them, aided only by his valet and the long-suffering Mary.”
In Slate, Dan Kois tells the story of how one librarian tried to quashGoodnight Moon: “On Monday the New York Public Library, celebrating its 125th anniversary, released a list of the 10 most-checked-out books in the library’s history. The list is headed by a children’s book—Ezra Jack Keats’ masterpiece The Snowy Day—and includes five other kids’ books. The list also includes a surprising addendum: One of the most beloved children’s books of all time didn’t make the list because for 25 years it was essentially banned from the New York Public Library. Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, would have made the Top 10 list and might have topped it, the library notes, but for the fact that ‘influential New York Public Library children’s librarian Anne Carroll Moore disliked the story so much when it was published in 1947 that the Library didn’t carry it … until 1972.’ Who was Anne Carroll Moore, and what was her problem with the great Goodnight Moon?”
How many sounds can a Stradivarius make? “In a stuffy, soundproofed room tucked beneath the auditorium’s seats, audio engineer Thomas Koritke, whose company will create a virtual version of the instrument, listens through speakers as his computer records it all. He will do this every day for five weeks, meticulously documenting thousands of variations of the sounds Vesuvio and three other masterworks of its era can produce.”
The oldest known illustration of Venice: “After departing Venice in 1346, the Franciscan friar ventured to Jerusalem, Damascus, Cairo and Alexandria, writes researcher Kathryn Blair Moore in the journal Renaissance Quarterly. Niccolò took notes on gesso tablets while he traveled, and when he returned to Venice in 1350, wrote down his full firsthand account. The oldest manuscript of the work and its illustrations, titled Libro d’Oltramare, now resides in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence. It was here that Sandra Toffolo, a scholar of Renaissance Venetian history at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, noticed an illustration showing the Italian city’s characteristic buildings, canals and gondolas. The illustration is the oldest drawing of Venice yet discovered, excluding maps, the oldest of which dates to 1330 and was created by Fra Paolino, another Venetian Franciscan friar.”
Texas is big and the people who live there are fiercely independent. If that’s all you know about Texas, you don’t know much. David Davis reviews Stephen Harrigan’s history of Texas: “Harrigan’s Texas is teeming with a variety of human life. In the 17th century, ‘Texas … was hardly a void,’ bustling with tribes like the Teyas, Jumano, and the Apache. The Karankawas lived along the Gulf Coast, and the Caddo spread out through the pine forests of East Texas. People—individuals and groups—provide an essential context for Big Wonderful Thing. From native tribes to Hispanic and Anglo settlers, speculators and homesteaders, inventors and pioneers, factory workers and tech engineers—they all have a place in this portrait and have all left a unique mark . . . Almost as significant is Harrigan’s insistence on the importance of place. The landscape of Texas is as diverse as the people that inhabit it. Texas is not a desert, despite what almost every Western depicts. For Harrigan, Texas is ‘staggeringly varied,’ with ‘hypnotically featureless plains’ stretching into ‘forests so tropically thick … every breath feels like something that must be seized from the greedily respiring trees.’ Several major rivers—the Colorado, the Brazos, the Trinity—cut through the land, creating flood plains, cliffs, canyons, and deltas. The ‘chromatic wonderland of geology’ in Palo Duro Canyon jarringly contrasts with the barren Chihuahuan Desert in the south as much as the rolling plains covered in bluebonnets look nothing like the sub-tropical swamps surrounding Houston.”
The return of Kenny G: “If you’re under 30, ‘Kenny G’ might not even ring a bell. (His real name is Gorelick, for what that’s worth.) But after nearly 20 years out of the pop culture limelight, his once-renowned smooth jazz soprano saxophone stylings are returning to the radio and perhaps even to an elevator or grocery store near you. Improbable as it may seem, the musical world is buzzing about his surprising and prominent appearance on superstar Kanye West’s new gospel album, Jesus Is King.”
Essay of the Day:
In The New Statesman, Devon Heinen writes about the suicide epidemic among indigenous people in Alaska:
“If you didn’t know any better, you might have thought it was three or four in the afternoon – not 10pm. It was still beautiful outside. The navy blue water of Eschscholtz Bay was calm. There wasn’t a cloud to be seen. The sun still hung high in the sky. Depending on where you are in Alaska in the summer you can get near-constant daylight, and that’s what Nathan Hadley Jr. and his family got that night on 28 July 2018.
“After a long day of hunting for beluga whale in the bay and some berry-picking, it was time for a bonfire, dinner and, for some, a chance to swim before heading home. At one point, the low rumble of a plane could be heard as it cut southeast through the sky. Soon, the twin-propeller craft came into view, the night-time sun reflecting off its white paint. Instantly, Nathan knew what it was: a medevac (a medical evacuation aircraft). That kind of plane wasn’t new to him; for one emergency or another, he had seen it time and time again.
“Around the toasty bonfire on the beach of Choris Peninusla, the adults started talking about the medevac. ‘I wonder who they’re going to Buckland for?’ Nathan wondered aloud in between bites of smoked salmon.
“Buckland was Nathan’s village, about 30 miles away, and, sure enough, where the patient was. There was a chance to save her. But with every second that passed, time was running out.
“It would be hours until Nathan found out what was going on. The patient was his daughter, Rosie. She had fallen victim to a rising public health issue for indigenous people that, for years, has claimed life after life after life and has hurt countless families and loved ones around the country, but especially in Alaska: suicide.”
Photo: Château Frontenac
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