This absolutely wonderful article by Tiff Fehr, a senior developer at the New York Times (and Seattleite, now once-removed) will delight all word nerds early on. But keep reading, it includes actually non-trivial life-advice. (Also, her tl;dr burn is sick).
I doubt any readers stumbled over the word unlearning. We know negative prefixes (a-, anti-, dys-, in-, ir-, non-, un-, etc) and how they convey the inverse or opposite2 of a concept. Yet there was a time when that was new to “common” languages like English. To make it happen, negative prefixes needed to make their way via translation from the elite, literate world to the written local dialect and then into common speech.
Un- is fun among the negatives because it can express both a lack of something (unhappy) but also actions not yet performed (unread) or actions undone (undone). One of the early uses of the English root unlearn was by educated elites when they referred to common people lacking in education as the unlearned. Illiteracy was a huge socioeconomic hurdle—those “unlearned” people had to take oral recitations of translated works on faith, including rather important things like legal documents and mass. Unlearning emerged not long after, within the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation was a cultural revolt in Europe, starting in 1517 with Martin Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses”—in Latin, railing against a corrupt, oppressive church—and concluding around 1617, shortly after “The Tempest” and the final works of Shakespeare.
Brian Merchant talks to Joe Haldeman about his classic SF novel, The Forever War.
As William Gibson notes in the blurb on the front of my paperback copy, “To say that The Forever War is the best science fiction war novel ever written is to damn it with faint praise.” It’s one of the best books about war, period, and it’s telling that the other accolades listed come from literary lights like Jonathan Lethem and Junot Diaz, who calls it “perhaps the most important war novel written since Vietnam.”
Haldeman was a veteran of that conflict—“I was drafted against my will, and went off to fight somebody else’s war,” as he put it—and the book projects the contours of his duty and subsequent return to civilian life into a future marked by what is almost literally forever war. Its power lies in the expert co-mingling of hyperbolic allegory with gritty speculation. It’s about a war that literally damn near never ends, one that spans the furthest reaches of space and time; the fighting can happen anywhere and is potentially everywhere. The protagonist, an almost-anagrammed stand-in for Haldeman named Mandella, is hurled across far reaches of the galaxy to fight a poorly understood, apparently undefeatable foe.
Seattle's own Real Change looks at banned books, and why they get banned. Surprise! It's because people are small minded about differences.
People attempt to ban or bar books from schools or libraries for a variety of reasons, but increasingly, the most challenged books are either written by or about people of color. The top 10 most challenged books in 2014 included novels, comic books and picture books. Half of them are written by or feature prominent characters who are people of color. Others deal with same-sex parents, personal sexuality and abuse.
Friend of the SRoB Rahawa Haile wrote this lovely piece this week about losing her grandmother, Florida, Eritrea, refugees, and how one person can hold all of those things inside at once. Such a thoughtful, honest, and beautiful piece of writing.
My grandmother was born to the Italian lira, grew up under the British pound, revolted against the Ethiopian birr, lived under the American dollar in order to raise me, and died, finally, buried under her country’s first currency, the Eritrean nakfa. She was home to me, my link to a land generations had fought for and to the sand in Florida on which I played. A reminder of how far and against what odds my blood had traveled for the promise of autonomy. And now she was gone.