Arts & Letters Daily

Arts Letters Daily ideas criticism debate (1)

Screen capture of part of Arts & Letters Daily main page, as accessed on September 21, 2017

One of the things I love doing is helping connect people with books that will inform, entertain, and perhaps transform them. One of the ways I do that is through various newsletters and websites that alert me to new books as well as information about the literary world, authors, book selling, and all things related to books. At the same time, I realize that this blog can’t be a “one stop shop,” and so I also like to pass along the resources I’ve found useful in discovering news about books and all things literary.

One of my readers recently commented with regard to a post about one such site, “One more alternative to actually reading books??” His question raises a fair point. I really could spend all my time reading what is on these sites rather than reading books. But I think most of us have figured out how to skim them to discover what catches our attention. Sometimes, they inform me about books I decide I don’t need to read. Sometimes they pique my interest in something I want to read and review. And I think you will admit that I read and review a few books (over 100 so far this year).

That’s a long introduction to a site I discovered recently, Arts & Letters Daily, published by the folks who put out The Chronicle of Higher Education, which is the Wall Street Journal of the academic world. That should tip you off that you will find a high standard of writing in the articles aggregated on this website. Unlike The Chronicle, all content is available without subscribing, although there is a link in several places to “Support Arts & Letters Daily”

Like Literary Hubthis site curates articles on books and the literary and publishing world from all over the internet. It does so under three categories:

  • Articles of Note: Currently (September 21, 2017), the top articles on the page are on Hemingway in LA (from the LA Times), hallucinogenic fungi (from hyperallergic.com), and Kingsley Amis at 70 (from The Guardian).
  • New Books: The first three articles in this column currently are a review of a book on what writers wear from The Times Literary Supplement, a review of Why Poetry? from the Washington Post, and a  book on the evolution of beauty reviewed in The New York Times.
  • Essays & Opinions: Currently the first three are an article on Evelyn Waugh’s Catholicism from First Things, an article in The Jacobin on James Burnham’s journey from Trotskyite to conservative editor, and a London Review of Books review article by Pankraj Mishra on a collection of books exploring the future of liberalism in the age of Trump and Brexit.

The site is much less flashy than Literary Hub, being organized around three columns of articles under the three categories listed above. It adds no images to the article summaries and so allows for a great deal of content in a small online space.

The other feature of the site is the column of links on the left hand side of the page. From top to bottom following a box allowing you to subscribe to a weekly email newsletter, these are grouped under “Nota Bene” (a collection of miscellaneous articles), “The ALD Archives,” “Newspapers” (26 newspapers from around the world), “Breaking” (links to breaking news on various media outlets), “Magazines” (a long list), and “Book Reviews” (another long list of links). One fun feature under “Archives” is a “Random” link which randomly selects an article in the archives to show you.

Essentially, this is a portal into the literary world. I like the simple organization without the distraction of visual images that links you to content that appears of interest. The alphabetical lists of links to magazines and literary reviews is handy to have in one place.

As noted above, Arts & Letters Daily also sends a weekly email of its “Top Reads” each Friday. Here is a screen capture of the web-version of the September 15, 2017 newsletter:

Top Reads From Arts Letters Daily

The motto of Arts & Letters Daily is “Veritas odit moras,” a quote from Seneca that translates “truth hates delay.” I don’t know if this is what the editors were thinking, but the format and content of Arts & Letters Daily seems designed to get the truth out without delay, a mission ever more crucial in our day.

Can a Book Change Your Mind?

Recently The Chronicle of Higher Education Review asked 12 scholars what book had most changed their mind. The list was interesting, mostly for the fact that I had not heard of most of the books. But what caught my attention was one of the commenters who raised the question of whether books can “change our minds.”  Part of the commenter’s discussion was what we mean by “mind” (typical academic question!) and what it means to “change” this.

Partly, I was grateful for these comments because, surprisingly, I had a hard time with this question as well. My initial thought was that although I cannot think of a book that “changed” my mind, I can certainly think of books that have expanded my mind, or opened up new avenues of thinking about a question. I suppose this can be labelled as change in an incremental sense. But I cannot say there is a single book I think of that has caused a profound revolution in my thinking–at least overnight or in a single reading.

That said, I do think there have been books that have shaped core convictions and the way I live my life. Perhaps one mark of their significance is that they are books to which I return that seem to yield new depths with each reading. It seems with these books that it is not so much that they “change” my mind, but that they “make sense” of my world and give words to what I sense is real and true about life.

Of course for me, The Bible would be at the top of my list. In my youth, it was the stirring language of Romans 8 and a God whose love I could not be separated from. In more recent years, it has been the psalms of lament as I’ve faced loss and seen the evil of the world.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together continues to speak compellingly to me about the character of Christian community and the possibilities of two people meeting each other uniquely through their common faith in Christ.

I am in the midst of a re-reading of John Stott’s profound work on The Cross of Christ and reminded how “cross-shaped” a truly Christian life is.

Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August persuaded me more than any other book of the follies of war and the great responsibility those in power have for such folly.

Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country and Wendell Berry’s Port William stories helped me understand how important a sense of place and a love of place is to our lives.

Books like Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac reminded me of the intricate ecosystems of our places.

I could go on, but I guess what books have done for me is not so much “change” my mind but rather have given words to make sense of my life and enlarged my view of the world in which I live it.

So what do you think about this question? Is there a book  that has changed your mind? How would you describe the significance of important books to your life?