Some articles and a book I keep returning to—
Coming from someone who knows nothing of Russian literature, this piece passes the test. It was the first thing I read in an excellent nonfiction writers’ workshop this fall and does everything you’d want a good piece of longform to do: laugh, scratch your head, and become deeply interested in something which was previously totally off your radar. You can sense the author herself falling down a rabbit hole, and it’s full of great anecdotes (my personal favorite being the time Chekhov ran out of a sauna into the street because he heard Tolstoy was in the building and didn’t want to meet him under such circumstances). If I’m ever a grad school student looking for a grant and have a little extra time on my hands, maybe I, too, will head to the International Tolstoy Conference and meet some worthwhile figures.
This book has become something like a holy text to my brothers and me over the past few years. Any time I’m planning to travel somewhere for longer than a week, I bring it along. Bill has done all the things I secretly and not-secretly crave—to travel a great many far-flung locales and live to tell the tale, to surf untouched waves, and, of course, to eventually write about it all. A good primer comes from the piece that would eventually turn into the book, ‘Playing Doc’s Games’.
Here’s something I never thought would affect me as deeply as it has: a short profile of a theologian in New Haven. Rothman introduces us to Anthony Kronman, the former Dean of Yale Law School, “arguably the world’s most fulfilled man”, and the foremost authority on Born-Again Paganism, Kronman’s personal ideology that centers on a deep appreciation for the the minutia of day-to-day life. It’s a look into a life of the highest academic privilege, where one’s only concern is to think the big thoughts. Once, I presented it in a senior seminar on ‘the future of work’, trying to contend that Kronman has the right idea and maybe we should all just stare at ivy growth patterns for a while (?)—everyone hated it. Nevertheless, it always makes me think of what my own form of absolute contentment may look like.