Essays and the joy of words
Over the past few months, my favourite writing has been that of the essayist Helena Fitzgerald. Her delicate, at some points starkly honest pieces are often devastating and beautiful to read.
Take this for example: “If we are the things we accumulate — our loves, our fears, our routines, our habits — then getting on a plane divests us of everything to which we are accountable, of the repetitions that bind us to a set identity and demand our continuous loyalty.“
She is a writer in love with the sound of words and their textures, and the piece quoted here is a sensitive dissection of travel, airports, and escape.
If you are in any way as obsessed with Fitzgerald's writing as I am, check out, and sign up to, her Tinyletter here.
Tim Parks is another writer I always look out for. Here, in the New York Review of Books, he takes a long look at the perils and pleasures of translating Machiavelli. Translation is a messy, iterative, and above all, artistic process, and Parks illustrates this neatly. Machiavelli is an obvious European cultural touchstone, and seeing the way a translator weighs his words gives a unique insight into the very concept of literary meaning.
Queerness and a roman legend
Vice is known for its sensationalism and sex. But sometimes, just sometimes, it produces journalism that feels utterly essential. For me, a straight white middle-class man, this series on queerness was educational and impressive in equal measure. We need to know about these things, especially given the world's anxiety-inducing trend towards authoritarianism.
Francesco Totti is one of few Europeans to encapsulate a city. His relationship with Rome and AS Roma is a transcendent sporting story. For over twenty years he has embodied the hopes and dreams of (half) a city. Rory Smith, now at the New York Times, was lucky enough to spend time with him. Just as Totti is a footballing genius, Smith is becoming the sort of sportswriter who elevates the genre. He's just a brilliant writer now.
(And if you don't like football or sport in general, this might come close to beginning to explain the obsessions of those who do.)
And then the elephant in the room
The best writing on the election of Donald Trump, which remains probably the most important event to have occurred in the last month or so, has been from American journalist Sarah Kendzior. She is clear-eyed, realistic, and worth reading. Kendzior is one journalist who saw the signs of Trump's election early, and her thoughts and analysis since November 8th have illuminated my Twitter timeline.
From a more European perspective, this, by British journalist Sam Knight about the European Parliament's biggest waste of money (Nigel Farage, former UK Independence Party leader) and Trump, is eye-opening. It's also extremely disconcerting, but Knight can certainly weave a cutting portrait.
To end, we are living through important times, but good writing and good journalism can save us. AA Gill, a British newspaper columnist who died during December, put it well:
“Freedom of speech is what all other human rights and freedoms balance on. That may sound like unspeakable arrogance when applied to restaurant reviews or gossip columns. But that’s not the point. Journalism isn’t an individual sport like books and plays; it’s a team effort. The power of the press is cumulative. It has a conscious human momentum.”
That is why we write, and why, in an apparently 'post-truth' age we ought to still read. It helps.