The Kids Aren’t Alright

It’s definitely “Eclectic Reading Saturday.” I just skim read a library copy of Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy, and liked it enough to order it from Amazon, so I could write in it. Then I finished off the latest in a long romance series, which was disappointing, but I’m so committed to the series, I’m sure I’ll buy the next one as well.

And then I finally read the cover story in The Atlantic about how the kids aren’t having sex anymore.  There are a lot of theories why – online porn, stress, #metoo movement, social awkwardness. I don’t think that that the author ultimately settled on one reason for the drop off in sexual activity, but it was still a good article. I highly suggest reading the article online, because it’s necessary to google terms from time to time.

I’ve been interviewing 20-somethings for a larger project that I’m working on. It has nothing to do with sex, but it touches on some of the themes in this article. I won’t go into it now, but I do sometimes think that I want to scoop up my children and relocate to Vermont or Ottawa and learn how to live off the land.

So, is this drop off in sexuality a good thing or a bad thing? Declining teen birth rate and abortion rates are good, but the causes of the decline in sexuality are all deeply unhealthy – online porn use, social awkwardness, job stress. And the people that the author interviews are seriously unhappy and isolated. We’re ready for a major correction.

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Tom Wolfe on Graduate School

Very sorry about Tom Wolfe’s passing. I loved Bonfire of the Vanities.

Here’s what Wolfe said about going to grad school.

I had just spent five years in graduate school, a statement that may mean nothing to people who never served such a stretch; it is the explanation, nonetheless. I’m not sure I can give you the remotest idea of what graduate school is like. Nobody ever has. Millions of Americans now go to graduate schools, but just say the phrase—”graduate school”—and what picture leaps into the brain? No picture, not even a blur. Half the people I knew in graduate school were going to write a novel about it. I thought about it myself. No one ever wrote such a book, as far as I know. Everyone used to sniff the air. How morbid! How poisonous! Nothing else like it in the world! But the subject always defeated them. It defied literary exploitation. Such a novel would be a study of frustration, but a form of frustration so exquisite, so ineffable, nobody could describe it. Try to imagine the worst part of the worst Antonioni movie you ever saw, or reading Mr. Sammler’s Planet at one sitting, or just reading it, or being locked inside a Seaboard Railroad roomette, sixteen miles from Gainesville, Florida, heading north on the Miami-to-New York run, with no water and the radiator turning red in an amok psychotic over boil, and George McGovern sitting beside you telling you his philosophy of government. That will give you the general atmosphere.

The Dark Web?

I’m working on a book proposal right now. I do this from time to time, but I’ve never gotten very far. I think book proposals are like relationships. They fizzle when things aren’t quite right. I’m in the honeymoon stage of this book proposal relationship, and things are flowing. My goal is to finish it by Friday of next week, and then send it out to people.

Since this book would seem to fall into the dreaded “self-help” section of the book store, I went to Barnes and Noble yesterday to check out other books in that category. It’s a rather huge section that includes everything from celebrity guides to losing weight to guides on how to be successful without any effort.

Lumped in with the books in the self-help section was Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. I don’t know much about Peterson, other than he is hated by a lot of people that I follow on Twitter. I guess he’s a conservative, but I don’t know much more than that. Because his book was 40 percent off and seemed be less badly written than other books on that table, I bought it. I’ll skim it today.

Bari Weiss wrote an article that also blew up some steam on Twitter yesterday, called “Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web.

Along with Peterson, other thinkers represent the new Intellectual Dark Web or the IDW, Weiss explains.

Most simply, it is a collection of iconoclastic thinkers, academic renegades and media personalities who are having a rolling conversation — on podcasts, YouTube and Twitter, and in sold-out auditoriums — that sound unlike anything else happening, at least publicly, in the culture right now. Feeling largely locked out of legacy outlets, they are rapidly building their own mass media channels.

These thinkers are making serious cash by saying controversial things, I guess. Weiss champions them as heroes who are fighting the good fight against political correctness.

The other big news yesterday was that Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, came out with a new blockbuster video, “This is America.” I watched it. I can only watch it once, despite the great dancing. Commentary here and here and here.

Today’s ideas are angry, divisive, lucrative, polarizing, violent. In some ways, I’m intrigued, because it’s all new and I like new things. But it’s also a little frightening, I suppose.

UPDATE: Read Henry Farrell on the IDW. Also interesting.

Why Are Students Still Paying So Much For Textbooks?

After settling into his dorm this past fall, John McGrath, a freshman at Rutgers University, took the campus shuttle to the school bookstore. He waited in line for 40 minutes clutching a list of four classes—including Microeconomics, Introduction to Calculus, and Expository Writing—and walked out later with an armful of books, some bundled with digital codes that he would use to access assignments on the publishers’ websites. He also exited the store with a bill for about $450.

McGrath, an accounting major, pays close attention to his expenditures. He had researched all the textbooks options—new, used, digital, loose-leaf, rental—and knew about the various online venues that compete with the campus bookstore for sales. His plan was to buy materials that he could later resell. But he was surprised to learn not only that he had to purchase digital codes for half of his classes, but also that those codes were often sold exclusively at the campus bookstore—and for a steep price.

More here.

Frozen Tundra and Rough Drafts

DSC_0057It’s damn cold here. Twelve degrees or some nonsense. There’s just a thin dusting of snow swirling around the yard, and the streets and the cars are all stained white from the salt trucks. It’s like a frozen tundra outside my office window.

The guests are gone, so I am back in my office. I did a deep cleaning of the house before the holidays, so things are nice and spartan the way that I like them. The fridge is stuffed with food still, the holiday chores are done, and Steve’s home to manage kids, so my housewife jobs are minimal. I’m enjoying myself.

I’m a big fan of the Girl with a Dragon Tattoo series. I read the trilogy three times. Now, I want to read books four and five by David Lagercrantz. But I feel that I must reread the entire series again for the fourth time before picking up the new books. It’s compulsive, I know, but it’s also perfect reading for a week like this. Instead of frozen New Jersey, I’m snug in a cabin in a moody Swedish town with a wood stoves and pots of coffee.

The series is a love letter to journalism and writing, which is also good timing for me. A nearly-finished Atlantic article is up on a google doc in another tab on this computer. Just fine tuning the last three paragraphs.  I need to get started in a moment on another article for a different venue, which is due on Friday. I’m ready to use another part of my brain from the one that knows the correct cooking time for roasted asparagus and the correct color of the guest bath towels.

Alright, I have a blog post about self driving cars coming before I get started on the new article.

Century Magazine

Friends know that I have a secret habit of selling old books on the Internet, so I sometimes get shopping bags of books on my doorstep, left like orphans outside the fire station. Last week, my friend, Mary, dropped off some lovely forest green encyclopedias and three volumes of Century magazine indices from the 1880s. She found them by the road left for the recycling truck.

The green embossed books caught my eye first; I bet I can sell them pretty quickly. The Century indices are a boring brown, so I worried that they wouldn’t sell. But then I looked inside. Poems by Walt Whitman and Emma Lazarus. An article that looked at the statistical likelihood of getting hit by a bullet in a civil war battle. And articles by Teddy Roosevelt about life on the frontier with illustrations by Frederick Remington.

I might not sell these books.