04 November 2012

Me and The New York Review of Books

For a month or so, I have been debating whether or not to renew our annual subscription to The New York Review of Books. Allen used to be devoted to this publication, and would read most issues from cover to cover. I tended to browse through each copy (dilettante that I am), picking out for closer reading just one or two articles that appealed. Sometimes, I confess, whole issues would go onto the shelf without my having even done that. At least many of the articles remain just as relevant months, even years, later. So we do have quite a collection of old editions on hand, and could probably spend a year or two revisiting these before we noticed an absence of new ones.

Anyway, I'm not even sure Allen would notice the publication's absence, though he does still go through each issue and (I think) reads or tries to read some of the articles. I cannot tell how much he is still absorbing from the closely-packed lines of text in this publication – four columns of it on every page – given his ever-increasing difficulty in processing the grammar of the English language both orally and in written form. But in this as in many other things, I tend not to inquire too closely. If something give him pleasure, that's enough of a reward for the effort involved. I don't really need to know the detail. Any attempt to elicit complex responses from him about a topic or issue would only result in causing him anxiety, as he tries so hard (and usually fails) to explain himself.

If I absolutely need to know something for Allen's own welfare (e.g. what he's trying to tell me about his new glasses, dentures or hearing aids and whether or not they fit properly and are working as they should), then I persist in grilling him, albeit as gently as possible. But if he appears to be enjoying a book, an article or a game, then I don't try too hard to find out exactly what he's getting from the experience. I only need to know enough about his reading to help him when we are searching for the next lot of library books, for example. More than that, I leave it up to him what he wants to share. Otherwise I could easily begin to seem like a primary school teacher grilling a reluctant pupil. It's enough that I am already forced to adopt too much of the persona of nurse and teacher without reinforcing this characterisation where it's not absolutely necessary to do so. I do know he prefers to read large-print books, but sometimes he can also absorb short lines of text in smaller print.

But back to The NY Review. In an effort to keep expenses down these days I review decisions about subscriptions as these come up. For example, we made a mutual decision last year to terminate our longstanding subscription to Harper's Magazine. Allen could no longer wade through the exhaustive articles, no matter how interesting, partly because the text format was prohibitively dense for his damaged brain to process. And even before his aphasia progressed to this stage, we were both finding it harder and harder to devote big chunks of time and attention to the lengthy articles that so often had US domestic issues as their focus. The NY Review, however, was another matter.

It used to be a standard joke that to be able to make good dinner-party conversation you didn't need to have read the latest books. You could gain all the information you needed from reading about the books in either The NY Review or the London Review of Books Well, dinner parties were never really our thing, but that joke is based on the fact that the articles in these publications go far beyond the typical book reviews you might read in newspapers and other periodicals. For a long time we subscribed to the London Review, but then for a variety of reasons we switched to The NY Review. 

Maybe in part due to my American background, the articles in the latter seemed to me to be more accessible. But I think we both felt that 20 years ago when we made the switch we had less access in Australia to contemporary US intellectual argument than to British cultural discussions. Quality BBC programs, for example, were more likely to be picked up by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation than first-rate programs from the American Public Broadcasting network. And for whatever reason, we've stayed with The NY Review ever since. Now with all our horizons – cultural as well as physical – shrinking, with Allen's ability to absorb complex intellectual argument deteriorating, and with so much more of my energy spent on caregiving duties and domestic responsibilities once shared with a partner, it seemed a good time to rethink yet another incoming source of competition for my limited time. Just getting through whatever library books I have on loan is sometimes difficult.

Then this morning with my coffee I read in the October 25 issue of The NY Review a two-page article by Alain Minc, a French economics consultant whose article was translated by Anthony Shugaar. The article, "An Open Letter to my Friends, the Financiers of America", may or may not be accessible to you online (I got to it there by virtue of my subscriber status). In only two pages, the author more than justified the cost of an  annual subscription to the Review. He managed to explain succinctly and brilliantly all that I hadn't understood about the crisis surrounding the euro, and why US analysts' pronouncements (including in some articles in The NY Review) about the likely demise of the euro, and possibly even of the European Union itself, betray a profound ignorance of the complexity of European affairs in general, and of European economic affairs in particular.

I came straight to my desk and renewed my soon-to-expire subscription the The NY Review. The scope of my horizon may be reducing year by year, but I can still appreciate clearly argued and beautifully expressed intellectual engagement and conviction. Unfortunately I can't trust my ability to summarise the article here. You will have to somehow get hold of a copy of this edition and read it yourself.


The Blog Fodder said...

They gave me the first page and for $5 would let me read the next page. I may ante up.

The only subscriptions I wish I could afford are to The Economist internet edition but I spend too much time on the net as it is.

I need to read up on aphasia to understand your husband's battle better, so I am glad for the links on your blog

Red said...

It's tough to give up some well liked and appreciated activities. However , the key is well reasoned articles that have an unbiased viewpoint.
All the best with your daily challenges.

About me

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I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.