The Sunday Post for December 24, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that’s your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

Comings and Goings

I read Donna Miscolta’s essay about her Uncle Dondey's funeral, and immediately I want to read it again, each time. Miscolta (a regular reviewer for the Seattle Review of Books) is a direct writer, but never dull, an emotional writer but never sentimental. This piece summons love and grief without ever saying their names; Miscolta simply shows them to us, and we know what they are, because she does.

When the last la la's of the song fade, people start to leave. Rosalva, my eighty-six-year-old aunt wobbles across the grass on heels, a niece or nephew always within range should she topple in any direction. Later in the car, she complains about the uneven ground at cemeteries, the perils it poses to innocent mourners. "I was walking just like . . . " she pauses, searching for a proper analogy. "I was walking just like a little old lady," she says.

I pat her knee. I watch her change out of her heels into soft black moccasins. The flesh on her tiny bird legs is crinkly as tissue paper and I wonder if there will be a sound if I touch her skin.

An Intimate History of America

Clint Smith visited the National Museum of African History and Culture with his grandfather, who, Smith says in a series of tweets about how the resulting essay was developed, "never thought he’d see a museum like it in his lifetime." The experience provides a line of continuity from the past that reveals the present in a clear and harsh, but truthful, light.

We made our way through the exhibitions that document the state-sanctioned violence black people experienced over the course of generations, pausing to study the images and take in their explanations: How, even after the Civil War, the Black Codes in South Carolina made it so that grown men had to get written permission from white employers simply to be able to walk down the street in peace. How in Louisiana a black woman’s body, by law, was not her own. How in Mississippi an interracial marriage would put a noose around your neck the moment the vows left your lips. The history of racial violence in our country is both omnipresent and unspoken. It is a smog that surrounds us that few will admit is there. But to walk through these early exhibitions was to be told that the smog is not your imagination — my imagination — that it is real, regardless of how vehemently some will deny it.
After Sebald

Celebrity book designer Peter Mendelsund on W. G. Sebald, the curious history of book jackets, and the mysterious interaction between authors, books, and readers. Splendidly wandering and thoughtful — a classic essay in style — and a chance to use the term "celebrity book designer," a Sunday Post first.

It then occurred to me that my own book covers, seen in aggregate, might be said to form a sort of diary as well — my diary — as these covers are, to some extent, artifacts of my own unique visual obsessions. The more I considered my work in light of this idea of a "diary," the more I began to see that there are two facets of my job — first, my own self-expression, and then second, in direct contradiction to this first idea: the mandate to understand, inhabit, and visually translate an author’s unique vision. But then I thought, aren’t these mutually contradictory vectors also in play when we read? Don’t we imagine an author’s world using the most personal of materials, our own imaginations and memories, and yet don’t we also attempt to maintain some fidelity to an author’s prompts? I had written a book on reading last year, and only now, on the threadbare floor of this bookshop did I realize that perhaps I had given short shrift to this idea of a mutual space, shared between author and reader.
Silicon Valley Is Turning Into Its Own Worst Fear

Ted Chiang writes something pretty rare — truly surprising, not just good or inventive, but surprising, science fiction. It’s outright terrifying to read his brilliantly sideways take on artificial intelligence in our not-science-fictional current reality.

I used to find it odd that these hypothetical AIs were supposed to be smart enough to solve problems that no human could, yet they were incapable of doing something most every adult has done: taking a step back and asking whether their current course of action is really a good idea. Then I realized that we are already surrounded by machines that demonstrate a complete lack of insight, we just call them corporations.
A critical analysis of Bob Dylan's Christmas lights

I wasn't expecting a whimsical piece about Bob Dylan's sparse and eccentric holiday decor to pose an ethical dilemma, but in 2017, nothing is safe or sacred. When a media company (yet another) is under the microscope because of accusations of harassment or assault, do you refuse to provide a signal boost for its writers, and by extension for the company itself? Does the decision depend on the company's response, and how quick and how likely and how thorough change may be?

At Vice, Merrill Markoe has nailed exactly what I'd expect Bob Dylan's light display to read like. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on sexual harassment at Vice Media. Markoe's piece is charming; Vice is a hot mess. Happy holidays, and may this year pass quickly so we can get to work on whatever 2018 will bring.

A meticulous examination of this year's lighting configuration reveals the Gordian network of torments and rage roiling within this legendary artist who remains arguably our nation’s best interpreter of the zeitgeist. As usual, he has seized on this opportunity to comment upon the uniquely dangerous political crisis in which we now find ourselves.