Reading lately

I read pretty much all day, when I’m not looking and/or listening (and sometimes then, too), or doing something that focuses my attention on some motor activity. It would be difficult to keep track of that reading, though I generally do record in my journal what books I start or finish on a particular day, and I sometimes make cryptic notes, or save links to Zotero, or even occasionally hatch out blog postings. Often enough, the things I read fit more or less into ongoing dialogs and burgeoning collections, though systematic linkage isn’t all that common. Themes like Time do seem to recur, and I’m conscious of occasions to fit things read into my own personal chronology.

Case in point that prompts this posting is a wish to save a path to a New Yorker piece that deals with a specific time and a generation: Table Talk: How the Cold War made Georgetown hot describes a world of influential folk in 1950s and 1960s Washington, more or less focused on Joseph Alsop. The world portrayed is utterly foreign to my experience, and a long way from the Washington of the present (similarly foreign, thankfully), but the doings of those people –Kennedys, Kissinger, CIA operatives– surely warped my own world. There’s a certain fascination in exploring their time-and-place, as described in this interview with Alsop biographer Robert Merry (very 1996 in style):

Another recent (re-)reading is Nicholas Freeling’s Tsing Boum, a Van Der Valk mystery which plunges us into 1950s French military history, Dien Bien Phu and its aftermath. Again, outside my own experience, but an influential precursor to the American Vietnam disasters which so affected my own generation.

I’ve also been reading Jenny Diski’s The Sixties, a London-centered take on the decade by an astute observer (now aged 67; see also a recent London Review of Books piece)

Quite without irony, in walking away from the domestic and cultural structures of the Fifties and before, we found and formed our own quite rigid self-affirming groups in order to demand the right to express our individuality (6)… Along with anger and style, mockery was another way to identify who we were and who we were not (27)… The compromises that adults make cause much of the suffering in the world, or, at best, fail to deal with the suffering. Acceptance of one’s lot –maintaining a silence about what can’t be said, lowering your expectations for your own life and for others, and understanding that nothing about the way the world works will ever change– is the very marrow of maturity, and no wonder the newly fledged children look at it with horror and know that it won’t happen to them –or turn their backs on it for fear it will. (37-38)… The Sixties generation are getting to an age where the world is beginning to look quite baffling and alien. It happens to everyone as they grow older. People don’t notice you in the street, they aren’t very interested in what you have to say. We complain about how things used to be and how they are now– better then, terrible now. And it feels as if this is true. But perhaps it always feels true as the centre drifts away from you. (133)

For my purposes, ‘Generation’ is too diffuse and sprawling a unit. I’ve had several occasions to write about age cohorts as especially important sociocultural entities. The 3-year cohort (in my case, people born 1942-1944) seems to me to share formative influences that are truly binding and defining.

Tom Rush is pretty eloquent, for the greying:

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