Christmas is over, the bills are in, and taxes are just around the corner. Maybe you’re thinking that a quick trip to Atlantic City or Vegas might be in order? Don’t do it! Instead, read Jeffrey Meyer’s wonderful survey of gambling in Russian literature: “In nineteenth-century Russia, gambling at cards was a favorite leisure activity of military officers, and casinos in Germany and France became magnetic destinations for the landed gentry. Gambling was a way to test one’s nerve and courage, to risk honor, property, and status. Fueled by alcohol, the pleasurable distraction and means to stave off boredom often turned into an uncontrollable addiction. Obsessive gambling became reckless self-destruction, a form of suicide, which often followed total ruin. Like warfare and dueling, gambling was a high-risk and sometimes deadly activity, where greed and crime could flourish. When connected to love, it made a perfect literary subject.”

Oh dear. Jill Abramson’s book on the “crisis of trust” that threatens the “free press” (per the jacket copy) is apparently riddled with factual errors, small and big. She thinks Charlottesville is in North Carolina, for example, states that white nationalist Christopher Cantwell is southern (he’s from Long Island), and misrepresents minor details. More: “But the inaccuracies in Merchants of Truth aren’t just innocent goofs. Other journalists claimed Abramson lied or otherwise misrepresented information to draw comparisons between legacy media companies and newer digital operations. Danny Gold, a former Vice correspondent, said Abramson misrepresented his experience reporting on the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in the book,” calling it “a straight up lie.”

The Vatican has started a track team. It’s a long shot, but they hope to make the Olympics one day.

Gainsborough’s fine children: “The closer the bond he had with the sitter, the better the paintings tend to be.”

Carolyn Stewart writes about Winston Churchill as artist in The American Interest: “In the latest biography by Andrew Roberts, one of Churchill’s preeminent historians, just three pages out of 1,500 are devoted to the statesman’s artistic legacy. Yet painting was one of the most enduring and enriching activities he embraced in his lifetime. The signs are there: a prodigious output of over 544 canvases; a longstanding relationship with Britain’s Royal Academy, eclipsed only by his relationship with the House of Commons; and a traveling exhibition of his work that garnered a public response unlike any in the 20th century. When Dwight D. Eisenhower convinced a gallery in the Midwest to exhibit his work (and convinced Churchill to allow them), it sparked Churchill’s creative apotheosis across the world’s English-speaking countries. At the Art Institute of Chicago, the director’s decision to decline the traveling exhibition caused such a furor he was forced to resign. In London, gallery goers lined up around the block of the Royal Academy to see Churchill’s work. The only other artist drawing larger crowds at the time was Leonardo da Vinci.”

Casey Chalk reviews Sohrab Ahmari’s conversion memoir, From Fire by Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith: “There is a famous Persian proverb, Sokuni be-dast ar ey by sabât, ke bar sang-e ġaltân na-ruyad nabât, which translates to something close to ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss.’ As a conservative and traditionalist Catholic, I find that sentiment quite appealing and true to life. Yet there are exceptions, among them the Iranian-American Sohrab Ahmari. The popular writer at Commentary and former editorialist at The Wall Street Journal has rolled quite quickly in his relatively short life, from Shia Islam to Nietzschean nihilism, from Marxism to neoconservativism. Now, in his spiritual biography, From Fire by Water, Ahmari charts his intellectual travels into Catholicism, to which he converted in 2016. For the reading list alone, Ahmari’s apologia is a valuable resource for understanding the intellectual evolution of the West and how traditional religious belief still offers the best answers to man’s quest for truth.”

Essay of the Day:

In The New York Times, Ayten Tartici writes about Jozef Czapski’s lectures on Proust in a Soviet prison camp:

“It seems inevitable that death was never far from Czapski’s thoughts, consigned as he was to hard labor in rural Russia. As his biographer and translator Eric Karpeles notes: ‘Though they did not know that more than 20,000 of their fellow officers had been murdered by the Soviet authorities, the Polish officers at Gryazovets were keenly aware that their captors might kill them.’ Czapski concluded as much in his own memoirs: ‘Each man lived on hope. … Each prophecy was passed around with faith, everything served as fuel for our hopes, but in fact that very feeling, that sense of being buried alive, was cruel, and it was unlikely that we’d ever get beyond the wire, unless to get a bullet in the back of the skull.’

“In the face of that ominous possibility, Czapski and his colleagues came up with the idea of delivering nightly lectures, with each officer agreeing to speak ‘about what he remembered best.’ Father Kamil Kantak, a former Polish newspaper editor, lectured on the history of human migration; Lieutenant Ostrowski, an avid mountaineer, recounted his expeditions in South America. Professor Siennicki, of the Polytechnic School in Warsaw, talked about the history of architecture, and a Dr. Ehrlich discussed the history of the book.

“After first volunteering to speak on French painting, Czapski ultimately chose to lecture in French on Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, a text to which he felt ‘deeply indebted’ and which he ‘was not sure of seeing again.’ Miraculously, like Czapski himself, an abridged transcript of some of the lectures survived the war. He had dictated their content to two lieutenants, and the handwritten manuscripts, which have since been lost, somehow escaped the Soviet censor and were typeset. Shortly after the war, Czapski supervised a Polish translation. The lectures were not published in the original French until 1987 and not in English until last fall, when New York Review Books released a translation by Karpeles.”

Read the rest.

Poem: William Logan, “Turner’s Buoy”  

Photo: Partial Eclipse over Beijing

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