What’s with all the explanatory brackets in an otherwise enjoyable Studs Terkel interview [“Hope Dies Last,” by Michael Shapiro, November 2006]? This first one made me do a double take: “[folk singer] Woody Guthrie.” Then came “[conductor] Leonard Bernstein,” followed by “[FBI director] J. Edgar Hoover.” Why not explain what FBI stands for, as well?
After reading about “[jazz singer] Billie Holiday” and “[Italian tenor] Enrico Caruso,” I wondered why it was assumed that we already know who Mozart and Brahms were.
The only brackets I actually could appreciate were “C.P. Ellis [who became a civil-rights activist].” At the end of the interview, I particularly enjoyed Terkel’s concluding quotation from Winston Churchill — but who was he?
After we’d both read the interview, my husband and I had a good laugh thinking of identifications you might use in the future: [German politician] Adolf Hitler; [early English playwright] William Shakespeare; [marine marksman] Lee Harvey Oswald; [carpenter and medical miracle] Jesus Christ.
The Sun responds:
It’s true, many of our readers don’t need help identifying Woody Guthrie and Billie Holiday. But not every Sun reader has the same cultural background: Some are immigrants. Some are teenagers. Some don’t have televisions. A person who’s famous to one may not be known to another. We also hope that writing from The Sun will endure, and future generations may not remember Leonard Bernstein, or J. Edgar Hoover, or even [British cigar aficionado] Winston Churchill.
[Sun senior editor] Andrew Snee
Studs Terkel excoriates President Ronald Reagan for firing the striking air-traffic controllers in 1981. These workers were not fired because of their demands, as Terkel implies. They were fired because they broke the law by going on strike. Federal employees are forbidden by law from going on strike for any reason.
Sy Safransky says in his Notebook [November 2006] that a reader recently chided him for being a “death-obsessed worrywart.” This made me laugh, because I’ve often felt the same way about him after reading his predominantly dark reflections on life. The essays and stories he selects to print in his magazine are similarly gloomy. I did stop to wonder, however, whether he and his magazine would be as provocative and compelling were he not such a death-obsessed worrywart.
I’m a longtime fan of The Sun, but I was distressed to read Sy Safransky’s accusation in his Notebook that President George W. Bush may have “deliberately ignored warnings about al-Qaeda because he already had his eye on Iraq, and knew a terrorist attack would be a perfect opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade.” If this theory is true, Bush knowingly permitted the slaughter of innocent Americans to further his foreign-policy goals. Such an outrageous slander, without proof, is beneath The Sun. It poisons public discourse and leads to cynicism.
The essay “Killing Time,” by Stephen J. Lyons [November 2006], was a mirror to my own life. As a thirty-something woman, I know that my corporate position is a necessary facet of my existence. I still give time to my other side, however, the side that throws caution to the wind and enjoys an enlightened bohemian life. Together, the two give me balance.
I was grateful for Alexis Adams’s interview with Bill McKibben [“Dream a Little Dream,” October 2006], particularly after the previous month’s antireligious interview with Sam Harris [“The Temple of Reason,” interview by Bethany Saltman]. I hope Harris reads the October issue as well, for McKibben is exactly the kind of Christian he needs to meet. And there are many of us.
As an ardent environmentalist, I particularly enjoyed the interview with Bill McKibben. His eloquent words written on behalf of the planet have been important and heartening to me. In my pantheon of saints, he occupies a pedestal very near that of pioneering environmentalist Rachel Carson.
I love reading The Sun, but I’m still waiting to read an issue that has “community” as a theme. A lack of community strikes me as a central flaw in our society, and your magazine has covered other flaws so well. Why not this one?
Virtual, idea-based communities are fine — the Sun reading group I belong to is one — but we all live in a place, and it’s place-based communities that interest me. I live in the Washington, D.C., area, and when I brought this subject up with the other members of my Sun reading group, some bemoaned the lack of community in the city. Many agreed that power, politics, and a company-town attitude were aggravating factors. One member told of a buckwheat-festival breakfast the previous weekend in Kingwood, West Virginia. It sounded like community was alive and well there.
The next day the October issue arrived. The Bill McKibben interview on reforming society comes close to what I’ve been missing, but there is still a nagging lack of writing about place in The Sun. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for something that speaks to my concern. Meanwhile we D.C.– area Sun readers are learning more about each other, and that is a joy.
Reading Edward Abbey [“Sincerely, Edward Abbey,” October 2006] and Bill McKibben side by side in the same issue of The Sun was a useful study in contrasts. I have just two questions about Abbey: (1) Why did this staunch proponent of negative population growth father two additional children in his final marriage? And (2) did he really drive around in that gas-guzzling old Buick that appears in the accompanying photograph? (Perhaps he was en route to deposit it in the Mariana Trench.)
Abbey’s barbs aimed at religion, mysticism, land management, stewardship, SUVs, and even dogmatic science serve only to undermine the patient dialogue and coalition-building we need to solve our environmental crisis. I don’t disagree with the Earth First! approach entirely; sometimes a swift kick in the pants is justified, if only to grab some press coverage. But the likely response by those in power will be to dig their heels in deeper.
McKibben manages to shake the foundations just as much, but does so in a measured, diplomatic, and I dare say optimistic style. This — and not Abbey’s vitriol — is what will eventually persuade people to beat their swords into plowshares.
Edward Abbey writes, to the editor of a student newspaper, “What is the essence of the art of writing? Part one: Have something to say. Part two: Say it well.”
Great advice, but hard to do most times. Abbey fought the good fight until he died in 1989. Who among us will stand up in his place? What must we do to be heard when the applause has died, when it is all just voices stilled — or, at least, it appears that way? Poets try their dead level best to illuminate, to be heard, but does anyone have the time now? Self-absorption is so much more entertaining.
Soon we will all join Abbey over the “Great Divide.” Perhaps it will be clear to us then what he saw. We should look forward to the conversation.
Several pieces in the October 2006 issue made me cry. I wept through Dawn Paul’s short story “A Heart in Port” and Laura Didyk’s poem “The Great Fire.” My tears continued all the way through Maraya Cornell’s essay “The Button.” A great many of us are dealing with aging parents, which may cause us to question the current state of our own life and to consider our own eventual diminishment and death. These writers gave me the opportunity to at least temporarily shake off my stoicism and release some of the ache in my heart.
Laura Didyk’s poem “The Great Fire” is both encompassing and moving. Being exposed to such talent feels like an unearned gift.
Judith Keenan’s September 2006 cover photograph of someone’s toes protruding from beneath black fabric was intriguing. To learn from the caption that they belonged to a sick man who had asked the photographer to take a few pictures as mementos for his daughter was poignant, to say the least. To learn that he’d died shortly thereafter was heartbreaking.
In the same issue, Sy Safransky’s compact narration of his daughter’s biopsy [Sy Safransky’s Notebook] put all of my petty — and not-so-petty — worries in perspective. I had a similar situation with my son several years ago, so it was doubly meaningful to me.
Beth Richards’s Readers Write submission on “The Middle of the Night” [March 2006] brought out many different emotions in me: happiness, sadness, anger, joy. How wonderful it is that I can sit in this prison cell in Texas and have a connection to the world through true stories of human experiences — good and bad. It reminds me that my environment does not define who I am. I sit here day after day, month after month, year after year, questioning my humanity. But when I pick up my pen, I am no longer a prisoner. I am a father, a son, a man, a human being making my way as best I can and sharing what I have learned with others.