What Leah Penniman said about food apartheid in urban areas [“To Free Ourselves, We Must Feed Ourselves,” interview by Tracy Frisch, July 2019] rang strangely true as I traveled across Minnesota this spring. There, in the industrialized corn belt, I saw small town after small town with no grocery stores or Main Street cafes — just an occasional gas station with potato chips and cigarettes.
I don’t know if the term “food apartheid” is applicable in rural areas, but the sustainable economic order of small towns has been broken.
I appreciate David Zoby’s skill as an essayist [“Fish Poison,” July 2019]. He reveals the connections between personal grief and the endangered world — and our efforts to walk the tightrope between hope and despair.
For years I’ve mourned the extinction of evocative prose, having been unable to spot any healthy specimens in the wild. Then David Zoby’s “Fish Poison” cut through my digital news alerts and glued me to the page, dropping me brutally, and beautifully, at the end. Bravo.
“The Way Home,” by Jane Ratcliffe [July 2019], is a beautiful essay. Any story with a dog will always get me, and this one is genuine and relatable.
In the Readers Write on “Smoking” [July 2019], Joseph Fanning ended his piece awaiting the results of medical tests after a chest X-ray. How is he doing?
Joseph Fanning responds:
After six weeks of waiting, I was relieved and grateful to find nothing on the further test. As the doctor framed it, I’d dodged a bullet. But every smoker is vulnerable.
The scariest sentences in David Barsamian’s interview with Benjamin Carter Hett [“Big Lies,” June 2019] are “Germany in the 1920s was one of those places and times in history where you had this critical mass of geniuses. And yet it went down the drain and was replaced by Hitler’s unspeakably barbaric regime.” Hett reminds us not to get too complacent, and to remember that evil can take possession of anyone.
While Benjamin Carter Hett alluded to “bad things” that could or may already be happening, he is naive to say he doesn’t think people will be “hauled off to concentration camps” tomorrow.
Any comparison to the Holocaust is treacherous, but the profiling and mass incarceration of black people in this country and the deplorable conditions of detention centers along the U.S.-Mexico border tell a different story.
How many more young black men will be shot by police? How many more refugee children in U.S. custody will die or be separated from their families? We’re already complicit in our government’s systematically hauling people off. Let’s not be so foolish to think that we Americans are above all that. Does anyone remember Japanese internment camps?
Incarceration. Detention. Internment. Concentration. I know these aren’t the same, but what we’re doing to people is chilling.
I learned a lot about the rise of Adolph Hitler from Benjamin Carter Hett, but there is a danger in drawing parallels, even distant ones, between Hitler’s supporters and Donald Trump’s. I mostly disagree with Trump, but if I did like him and heard myself compared to Hitler’s supporters, I would feel insulted and stop listening.
When I find myself feeling critical of others, I can ask: When have I followed my anger or fear? When have I sought only views that confirm my beliefs? When have I thought myself superior?
David Barsamian’s interview with Benjamin Carter Hett was excellent, but Hett should have been challenged for saying, “You’d have to be deaf, dumb, and blind . . .” The phrase has no place in your magazine.
Do the editors think people who are unable to hear or see or speak are unable to understand the world around them?
I find it sad to hear people compare Donald Trump to Hitler. When someone does not comprehend evil, it makes it possible for evil to flourish. If your writers and interviewees truly understood the actions of Hitler, they would not compare Trump or any current American politicians to him.
Benjamin Carter Hett responds:
I appreciate everyone who took the time to send their thoughts.
To Kate Harris: I agree completely. The fate of migrants and refugees is the main area in which I am politically active, in ways that go beyond my writing.
To Kilian Kuntz: That’s a thoughtful and patient response, but when I hear crowds of people at a Trump rally chanting, “Send her back,” referring to Somali-born U.S. congresswoman Ilhan Omar, the thought that runs through my mind is: If you don’t want to be compared to a Nazi, try not acting like one.
As a subscriber since the 1980s, I have been educated, entertained, and moved by the writing in The Sun. But until I read Kristopher Jansma’s “The Samples” [June 2019] I had never exclaimed, “Wow!” after reading a short story. What a gift.
I have despaired over the soullessness of much fiction published these days, but today I read “The Samples” and wept — for the beauty of Kristopher Jansma’s language, for the depth of feeling, and for how the story touches so many human experiences.
The Readers Write on “Making Love” [June 2019] was much too frank for me. I wish you had edited it more thoroughly, or eliminated some of the submissions. Many of these situations are too personal to be included.
I really enjoy reading The Sun, but not an X-rated version of it.
Reading Sparrow’s essay “My Book Life” [May 2019] was like being wrapped in a familiar blanket.
I prefer holding a book in my hand, smelling it, turning the pages, and using a bookmark to hold my place. I love perusing used bookshops and finding old treasures. I don’t kiss books when I love them, as Sparrow suggests. I hold them to my chest. And how many children sleep with a book under their arms instead of a teddy bear?
I was once at an airport for a layover and saw four teenage girls exit a newsstand, each clutching the latest Nicholas Sparks novel. They sat cross-legged on the floor and took turns reading paragraphs to each other. I sat nearby and smiled, understanding how wonderful it is to share a reading experience with others.
I owe The Sun an apology. I once complained to you that the material in your magazine was too often dark and depressing, and I wondered if there were any writers who had something happy to say.
The problem was not with The Sun but with me. I had hit a dark patch in life and was near the breaking point. Sadly that was when I sent off my letter to the editor.
I still receive your magazine and read it with gusto and a clearer head.
Karen died this year. We had been married for fifty-three years.
Our union survived multiple long-term separations during my career in the Marine Corps; our separate recoveries from alcoholism; the hospitalizations of our three children; and the fact that we were different from each other in almost every way.
I am not creative and do not make friends easily, whereas Karen was an outgoing artist who often brought home people who had nowhere else to go. She painted, sculpted, threw pottery on a wheel, created jewelry, made stained-glass windows, and coaxed supermarket orchids to flower again and again. She also wrote essays and poetry, and read voraciously on a range of subjects.
After Karen died, I canceled her subscriptions to twelve magazines, but not to The Sun. I’ve already read a few issues cover to cover. (I have more time now that I am alone.) I really like your magazine and am looking forward to future issues.