Things not to say on an airplane

“My main job [as an assistant professor at insert-flyover-university-here] is advising presidential policy on public religious life.” I actually heard a Ph.D. tell his neighbor that on an airplane.

The first, most frequent, and most annoying way we lose our brains is by absolutely not credible bragging. In addition to the junior faculty member who apparently mediates between Obama and the religious community, I have heard academics claim work ten hours a week, get paid to write books, work secretly for foreign governments, be shareholders in their universities, teach more celebrities than have ever attended a particular university, and/or have an inordinate influence on [insert political situation here]. Some favorites that I’ve overheard in the last week: “[Insert state governor here] relies on me for information;” “I’ve studied [insert profession of fellow traveller here] and could tell you how to do it better;” “I can explain [terrorism/the financial crisis/other macrohistorcial trend] so everyone can understand it;” “I  fail students just for fun;” or “I was offered [insert prestigious job/reward here] twice but just had to turn it down for the good of my family.” This brand of brainless-academic-on-a-plane is acutely aware that the people around him/her do not know how bland, boring, and relatively unimportant our jobs really are, and is attempting to prey on an unsuspecting, non-academic audience for self-glorification. [link]

So: Why should English majors exist?

Well, there really are no whys to such things, anymore than there are to why we wear clothes or paint good pictures or live in more than hovels and huts or send flowers to our beloved on their birthday. No sane person proposes or has ever proposed an entirely utilitarian, production-oriented view of human purpose. We cannot merely produce goods and services as efficiently as we can, sell them to each other as cheaply as possible, and die. Some idea of symbolic purpose, of pleasure-seeking rather than rent seeking, of Doing Something Else, is essential to human existence. That’s why we pass out tax breaks to churches, zoning remissions to parks, subsidize new ballparks and point to the density of theatres and galleries as signs of urban life, to be encouraged if at all possible. When a man makes a few billion dollars, he still starts looking around for a museum to build a gallery for or a newspaper to buy. No civilization we think worth studying, or whose relics we think worth visiting, existed without what amounts to an English department—texts that mattered, people who argued about them as if they mattered, and a sense of shame among the wealthy if they couldn’t talk about them, at least a little, too. It’s what we call civilization. [link]

Your top five authors

Your top five authors:

I just hate picking top fives. Top five for what purpose? The five I’d most like to have dinner with? The five I’m glad got to write? The five I’d be sure to face out if I ever worked as a bookseller again? The five that I’d take with if I was on a desert island?

About two-thirds of my friends are writers. I’ve read thousands and thousands of books. I love and cherish books, but I don’t have favorites. If I was a “favorites” kind of guy, I’d have written one blog-post and had done with it. Instead, I’ve written ~50,000 of them.

Five authors? That’s like five elements of the periodic table. What use are five authors? My favorite authors are the ones living, dead, read and unread, published and unpublished, who write because they can’t stop and because something inside them burns to be outside. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I want to read their books, but they are all and every one my favorites.

Book you’ve faked reading:

I would never fake reading a book. Why would someone fake reading a book? That’s like faking what color socks you like. Are there seriously situations in which faking having read a book is a thing? Really? Ew. [link]


Mostly, I listen. I listen, and I do not laugh when my husband needs to secure the perimeter of our home each night. He keeps a machete by the nightstand. A long pillow divides our bed.

Trav believes his story is too familiar to be interesting. “I’m just another kid who got molested.” [link]

From when my friends were lost at sea

The article is gated, but if you google Rebecca Bazell WSJ it will come up

Hunger pangs don’t last, but dehydration is savage. At first, I couldn’t stop thinking about the cold Coke I had at lunch the day we set out, about the brutal sun and about the way the night breeze felt like a rake against my burned skin. But the upside of thirst is that it scrambles the brain. By the second day my body started to shut down and I felt more peaceful. And by the third day, I’d begun to see myself the same as plankton—just existing until I didn’t. I never consciously stopped wanting to live, but I ran out of the energy to care.

We were lucky—and kept alive—when a blanket of dark clouds rolled in on the third day. The flash storm lasted only five minutes, but we got what water we could from our hair and licked the drops from the boat. The salted aluminum tasted like poison and clawed at my fillings.