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Rich old white guys
I wish they had the grace to be content being all four of those things.
So many of them, especially in America, cast themselves not just as outsiders, but as victims, their rights hijacked by by trans people (1.03% of US adults), by gays (7.1%), Jews (2.4%), Muslims (1.3%), Asians (7%), Blacks (13.6%), Hispanics (19.1%), and of course, women (50.4%).
I thought of this irony while I was watching Tracie D. Hall interviewed this week by Omar El Akkad at the Toronto Reference Library about freedom of speech and banning of books – in the US where Ms. Hall is the executive director of the American Library Association, and in Canada, where Toronto’s Chief Librarian, Vickery Bowles, is a hero to free-speechers like me.
It seems libraries are under attack everywhere, with books that we read in our childhood being banned (and even burned) for being pornographic, unChristian, racist, violent or misogynistic. It’s especially bad in Texas and Florida of course, and it’s grown very bad in the GTA. This week the CBC revealed the Peel District School Board is ‘weeding’ all books published before 2008 because they’re not inclusive, including Harry Potter. The stacks of some high school libraries in Mississauga are now only half-filled.
So it’s timely that the Toronto Public Library has created a special collection of books banned across North America. It’s called The Book Sanctuary Collection and includes dangerous ideas such as those in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl.
At the reception before last week’s talk, one of the guests brought her young daughter who, bored with all the adults in the room, pulled out a book from the shelves and contentedly read it in a corner while we all chattered. I noticed that it was an illustrated book by Maurice Sendak (author of Where the Wild Things Are).
When Sendak died in 2012 at the age of 83, the New York Times noted that he “wrenched the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery and plunged it into the dark, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful recesses of the human psyche.”
Sendak’s books make regular appearances on the lists of banned books.
As for the young girl who was reading his book, she seemed captivated by what was on the pages of the very real imaginary world that Sendak was illustrating for her.
What does all this have to do with rich old white guys?
They’re the ones funding the move to ban books.
1. Lest we forget: Last week was the 22nd anniversary of 9/11. One of the least-told stories of that awful day was the evacuation of half a million people from Manhattan by boats of every size and shape. This 12-minute documentary narrated by Tom Hanks tells the story of an operation larger than Dunkirk in 1940.
2. You think you can fake your own death? Just don’t claim you drowned.
As for chronicling death, no one does it better than The Economist, whose obit writer since 2003 has been Ann Wroe. Here’s her obit of Isabel Crook, the Canadian anthropologist and Chinese communist, who died last month at 107. The Globe and Mail covered Crook’s life differently.
3. What would you pay for a good night’s sleep? Let me unspool the opening of the Financial Times’ article which said this: “This is the story about a $70,000 mattress. The most expensive mattresses in the world are made by Hästens, in Sweden. [I’ll] use $70,000 because that is the cost of the most popular model sold in Hästens’ more than 250 partner stores. And they’re getting pricier. Since the start of 2022, Hästens has raised bed prices in the US three times.”
4. Is skiing out west just so last year? If the high prices and long lift lines are taking the joy out of your winter, try something different. Do the patriotic thing and head to Switzerland to ski. “Indeed, heading out to enjoy different people and places around the world is the ultimate Canadian thing to do.”
5. The U of T is having a moment. In July, the pre-eminent science journal Nature ranked the U of T as the second most prolific health sciences research institution in the world, next only to Harvard. This should be no surprise; for years the U of T’s faculty of medicine has ranked among the Top 10 in the world, and its Family Practice Department is the largest in the world. Indeed, last week U of T was ranked in the top five research universities in the world, and the top public university in North America.
Oh, and that patch Apple sent you to install ASAP into your iPhone last week? It was uncovered by the U of T’s Citizen Lab.
6. The world’s fastest bullet train. It’s Chinese, goes 460 km/hr and connects Shanghai’s Pudong Airport with Longyang Road station in the city centre. That’s nothing compared to this Japanese train which goes 4,000 km/hr (twice the speed of an F-16), until its story was debunked by scores of fact-checkers.
7. Betting against America is a bad bet still. In his 2021 Berkshire Hathaway annual report, Warren Buffet wrote: “For 240 years it’s been a terrible mistake to bet against America.” Despite the hollowing out of a decency-driven middle class, here’s why Scott Galloway thinks it still is.
8. The best non-fiction book in the English language. That’s the boast of Britain’s Baillie Gifford prize whose long-list this year includes one Canadian, Vancouver’s John Vaillant, author of Fire Weather: A true story from a hotter world. Previous Canadian winners are Margaret MacMillan for Paris 1919 and Wade Davis for Into the Silence.
9. The Apple Launch. When Apple launches new phones, watches, and laptops, or merely updates them, it’s a global event. After all, there are 1.46 billion iPhones ringing the world. If you couldn’t make the launch in San Francisco on Tuesday, here it is, all 90 minutes, including a special appearance by Mother Nature (19:00 to 23:47).
11. Not Rhapsody in Blue. What was Gershwin’s other great classical piece for piano and orchestra? The Toronto Symphony will open its 101st season with Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F on September 20 and 21 with conductor Gustavo Gimeno and soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Tickets here.