Rather than in the world itself

The older I get, the more I care about understanding history. I pretend like I have a basic grasp of the sequence of modern world events, but the more I read, the more I realize how facile and shallow my understanding has been. (This is always one of the great, humbling pleasures of reading, in my experience.) To this end, I have been enjoying two riveting books: The House of Government, by Yuri Slezkine, and Say Nothing, by Patrick Radden Keefe.

The House of Government is a saga of the Soviet Revolution, with an enormous cast of real-life characters presented in a Tolstoyan array, which makes for very enjoyable reading. This is a big benefit, because the book is nearly 1,100 pages long. You’re going to want it to be interesting and well-written. Slezkine is a talented historian, with a far-ranging grasp of his subjects, and a personal investment in the history, being a former Soviet himself (who is now a professor at UC Berkeley). I’m learning a lot, and my mistrust of socialism (and of the American young people who claim to love it) only continues to grow.

Say Nothing traces the forgotten murder of a widowed mother of 10 in Northern Ireland in 1972, weaving her tragic story into the overall scope of IRA activity during the Troubles (especially focused on some high-profile IRA actors, such as Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes). Aside from watching both seasons of the (excellent) show Derry Girls, I have been woefully under-educated about the terror and violence that afflicted Northern Ireland for decades, and this book is making quick work of amending this gap in my information.

. . .

“What if we got rid of television? The Internet? It would give us back our sense of place, but also our pain, and for that reason it’s a nonstarter, absence of pain being what we strive for and have always striven for, this is the essence of modern life. It’s why we live in the image of the world rather than in the world itself.”

— Karl Ove Knausgaard, “Idiots of the Cosmos,” from In the Land of the Cyclops

. . .

Moses is growing up quickly, and it is hard for us to believe, in the parlance of parents, that he will be 2 next month. He is chatty, curious, and bossy, and we love spending time with him in the garden or squiring him around to all of the local parks. His little curls are coming in quite nicely, too, which makes us loath to give him a much-needed haircut.

It will also be hard for him to believe that he’s getting a baby brother, due late in the summer. Sometimes, I confess, I also forget about this, but that’s becoming increasingly harder to do the larger I get. (And this is a boisterous dude, who is really enjoying kick-punching me as much as he can.)

Guion and I are both excited and frightened about having another baby, as the memories of the doldrums of newborn life are never far from me. (A friend from my writing group just reminded me of the existence of the witching hour, and I felt a fresh sense of panic about that happening again.) But there are sweet things, too, right? Like: Swaddling, putting them in baskets or other small receptacles, smelling their heads and skin, laying them down on the floor and watching them not be able to go anywhere, etc., etc. These are nice things about babies.

7 thoughts on “Rather than in the world itself

  1. It sounds like worthwhile reading! The quote was rings very true-sadly- too.
    Congratulations! Child #2 is a big change, but yes there are so many Wonderful things about babies 😊. Now that my baby is 6, I am missing those cuddles. I am saying a prayer for good health for you and your family in this exciting time!

  2. I remember feeling so sorry for my toddler daughter, that she would not be the total center of our lives once her sister was born. That was 40+ years ago, and we are all enriched by having two children who love each other, with grandchildren who love each other too.

    As I get older, I feel, along with Abby, that history has more significance, more anchoring properties in what is happening around me now. But I, too, am no historian, and daily pick up references to events I never grew up with.

  3. LOL I am totally the same… I have a 3yo going through the terrible twos (lol) and just thinking about another kid just blows my mind lol… Congrats and good luck 👍😉🙌

  4. Hey! This blog came up in my mail and I’m so glad I chose to read it. It felt wonderful reading about your fondness for history. I’ve noted down these two books and the show ‘Derry Girls’ too. Seems interesting! Also, your kid looks adorable. All the best for the boisterous dude. 😀

  5. I started reading The House Of Government about six months ago, but never finished. Oof. I’m interested to hear your thoughts when you are done! AND congrats on expecting your second baby— what joy.

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