The Times We Live In, Weekly Reader
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Bringing clarity to our times

The Wednesday Weekly Reader features have included multiple posts focused on fears for the future of democracy. With links to the writings of historians, reporters, lawyers, media watchdogs, and political analysts, I have shared the thinking of the people I read in trying to sort through mounds of online and written information about this threat to our country.

This has been my way of understanding the context of the times we live in. But frankly, I’ve gone down this rabbit hole too many times.

After a year of setting aside space on More to Come (MTC) to curate a collection of articles and clips from writers I admire, it is time for a mild course correction.


A change is on the way

I remain worried about the future of democracy in America. But there are others you can turn to on that topic and go straight to the source, doing away with the middleman.

More to Come is not a platform with thousands of followers waiting with bated breath to hear what I think about today’s events. * I’m happiest when writing pieces that connect the dots between events and places in my life with the things around me. Only a small portion are political in nature.

Beginning in the new year, the focus of the Weekly Reader will shift to serve as the go-to place for my reflections on the books I’m reading. If 2021 is a guide, I’ll average a post every other week. But I’m not changing the name…the Every-other-week Reader is just too cumbersome.


I’m thankful for the following clear thinkers

What follows are my suggestions and links to the writers I’ve found to have useful insights, with a special focus in the area of history, which is my primary interest and specialization. These talented writers and scholars continue to help me sort through the puzzle of life today.


Understanding the historical context for the events in our lives

Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson — This is the easiest and strongest recommendation I can make. Each night or early morning, Richardson — a historian at Boston College — sends out a summary of key events of the day linked to historical events or trends. It is brilliant, and frankly I don’t see how she does it with such consistency and quality. You can pay to subscribe to her Letters from an American newsletter on Substack, or you can get it for free. She is the one person I gladly pay to ensure that her insights show up each day.

Richardson describes Letters from an American in these words:

Historians are fond of saying that the past doesn’t repeat itself; it rhymes.

To understand the present, we have to understand how we got here.

That’s where this newsletter comes in.

I’m a professor of American history. This is a chronicle of today’s political landscape, but because you can’t get a grip on today’s politics without an outline of America’s Constitution, and laws, and the economy, and social customs, this newsletter explores what it means, and what it has meant, to be an American.

These were the same questions a famous observer asked in a book of letters he published in 1782, the year before the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War.

Hector St. John de Crevecoeur called his book “Letters from an American Farmer.”

Like I say, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure rhymes.

I especially like Richardson’s take on days with special significance, such as Pearl Harbor Day, the anniversary of the day Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, or Veterans Day/Armistice Day, to name three recent ones. Richardson is a reliably progressive voice who also happens to be very smart and very good at what she does.


Joanne B. Freeman (credit: Beowulf Shehan)

Joanne B. Freeman — Richardson also hosts the podcast Now & Then with historian Joanne Freeman. The podcast is accessible from Richardson’s Substack platform.

Freeman was the co-host of the great history podcast Back Story before it ended production. I recommend you read Freeman’s Field of Blood. She’s writing a great deal about political violence and polarization, so her work has a hand-in-glove fit with today’s events.


Ed Ayers (credit: edwardayers.com)

Ed Ayers — The co-founder of Back Story, Ayers is now the founder and Director of New American History, which attempts to show history in more meaningful and memorable ways.

Ed provides insightful analysis and is an excellent writer. I always enjoy his updates. He writes on the Medium platform, where you can see articles such as this summer one: The classroom is a community of trust.

History is the turbulent, unpredictable, and deeply human record of everything that happened before this moment. Through interactive maps, video, audio, an algorithmic engine of journalism, and tools for educators, we hope to make visible what was previously invisible about our shared American story.


Rebecca Solnit (credit: Adrian Mendoza)

Rebecca Solnit A writer, historian, social critic, and activist, Solnit is simply one of the best writers and thinkers working today in terms of social commentary and the times we live in. Solnit is the author of more than twenty books on feminism, western and indigenous history, popular power, social change and insurrection, wandering and walking, hope and disaster. I highly recommend her books Whose Story Is This?Call Them by Their True Names (Winner of the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction), Men Explain Things to Me, The Mother of All Questions, Hope in the Dark, The Faraway Nearbyand Wanderlust: A History of Walking

Just put her name in the search on MTC and more than 30 references will come up. Solnit is also writing a regular column now for The Guardian. You need to know her.


Finally, I want to add a special commendation to Nikole Hannah-Jones for her groundbreaking work with the 1619 Project.


Understanding today’s media landscape

Dan Froomkin — Froomkin runs the indispensable Press Watch site, which he calls “an intervention for political journalism.” His “let me rewrite that for you” columns are both very funny and sad beyond belief. Froomkin, to put it mildly, doesn’t suffer fools.

If you want to see his list of the journalists up to the task of reporting in the midst of our upheaval, check out the Thanksgiving post entitled, I am thankful for journalists who bring clarity to our times.


Judd Legum — Legum is the founder of Popular Information, and I very much appreciate his “follow the money” approach to investigative journalism. One of his most important ongoing investigations is into those corporations who are supporting the Republicans who voted to overturn the election on January 6th.


A strong voice in understanding legal issues

Teri Kanefield — An attorney, writer, and commentator, Kanefield produces a weekly post on her blog that delves into the legal aspects of events today while also explaining why those who support democracy cannot simply take the same approach as those who want to kill it.


Laughs help get us through

McSweeney’s — Sometimes you just need a good laugh to get through the day’s grind. When that’s the case, I often turn to McSweeney’s. The Smart replies to dad emails piece kind of hurt, however. But the mother of all year-end summaries was great: Things I didn’t have on my 2020 bingo card, including:

  • Dumbest. Coup. Ever.
  • U.S. Postal Service: White hot center of drama and intrigue
  • Quitting royal family: An option

There are too many good, smart (and funny) people writing on a variety of topics to claim ignorance of what’s happening today. I encourage you to read:

There are so many more that I have not mentioned, but perhaps this will whet your appetite. In this day and age, you don’t need to settle for muddy analysis, bothsiderism, and anecdotal journalism (I’m looking at you, NPR). Whatever you read, come at it with a smart, curious, and open mind.

More to come…

DJB

*I do not have any special access from which to provide insights. I’m not on Twitter, Substack, Instagram, or Facebook to amplify my comments, nor do I want to be.

Image of puzzle pieces by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay.

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