24 RTB Books in Dark Times 1: Alex Star (JP)

“Books In Dark Times” takes its inspiration from Hannah Arendt’s Men in Dark Times, which proposes “That even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and that such illumination may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and their works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and shed over the time span that was given them on earth.”

At this dark moment, we really want to know what brings people like Alex—and like you, dear listener—comfort or joy in these dark Corona days. Alex Star, brilliant editor at Farrar Straus and Giroux, former editor of Lingua Franca, founding editor of the Boston Globe Ideas section, is the editor of many remarkable prizewinning books including George Packer’s The Unwinding and James Forman’s Locking Up Our Own

Jill Lepore, These Truths

Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Richard Serra, Sculptures

Yo Yo Ma performs “Going Home

Willa Cather, “The Song of the Lark” (e.g. Part II, Chapter 5 “She was not ready to listen until the second number, Dvorak’s Symphony in E minor, called on the programme, “From the New World.” The first theme had scarcely been given out when her mind became clear; instant composure fell upon her, and with it came the power of concentration. This was music she could understand, music from the New World indeed! Strange how, as the first movement went on, it brought back to her that high tableland above Laramie; the grass-grown wagon trails, the far-away peaks of the snowy range, the wind and the eagles, that old man and the first telegraph message.”)

Howard Zinn, “A People’s History of the United States

Ta-Nehisi Coates “Between the World and Me

Thomas Hardy, “Candour in English Fiction” (1890)

Peter Godfrey-Smith, “Other Minds

Thomas Nagel, “What is it Like to be a Bat?” (1974 philosophy article that inspired Godfrey-Smith’s subsequent question “what is it like to be an octopus?”)

Joseph Conrad, “The Secret Agent

Thomas Hardy, Return of the Native

Thomas Hardy, “Far from the Madding Crowd

Sergeant Troy shows off his mad sword skills to Julie Christie in John Schlesinger’s film version of Far from the Madding Crowd

John Schlesinger, Far from the Madding Crowd

Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge

Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure

Paul Beatty, The Sellout

Listen to the episode here

Read the Transcript here:

Up Next: We will be featuring a series of these conversations, including familiar voices from earlier episodes (novelist Steve McCauley, historian of writing Martin Puchner) and newcomers, including Carlo Rotella and (the Plotz boys together on air at last) John’s fabulous brother David

Author: plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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