Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
A New York moment:
Last year I started subscribing to a local paper that covers a cluster of small towns north of New York City, like Beacon. The town meetings and arguments about construction of a cell tower are not relevant to me, but it’s a good newspaper, and I miss good, local news coverage. Every issue has a Q&A with a local resident, like a longtime pub owner or a librarian.
The Highlands Current has also made me think about my own community in a different way: What “cell tower arguments” am I missing here? What pub owners should I be meeting who have been around my neighborhood for 50 years? I think it was my journalism teacher (and longtime New York reporter) John McCandlish Phillips who said that New York City is a hundred small towns squished together. I could be a better citizen of my “small town” in this big metropolis.
The Current also regularly makes me laugh. In recent months, Cold Spring has had an unfolding drama with geese pooping all over a local baseball field. Reporter Michael Turton’s narrative is gold. The village board argued over what to do: One trustee suggested buying strobe lights, others talked about buying a device to sweep the field, and a local library summer program suggested teens could paint coyote effigies.
The newspaper reported that experts didn’t think the predator effigy approach would work, but the town went with that plan. A woman working on the library program wrote a letter to the editor complaining about the negative coverage of the library’s effigy efforts, which, after all, were creative and cost-effective.
This summer, teens at the local library painted seven wooden cutouts of coyotes and planted them in the field. Two weeks later, the newspaper reported that the 2-D coyotes were keeping the geese away. Triumph for the letter-to-the-editor writer!
The triumph was short-lived. In a recent issue, the newspaper ran a devastating photo of dozens of geese gathered in the field around one of the wooden coyote cutouts. “FUN WHILE IT LASTED,” the caption read. I don’t know how this goose drama will turn out, but I do know that I’ll re-up my subscription this year—and maybe go to a community board meeting in my town.
Worth your time:
This week I learned:
In 1951 Gallup surveyed people asking, “Would you mind telling me frankly if anything has made you cry within the last 24 hours?” Seventeen percent said yes, they had cried in the last day. I wonder if we’re crying more or less now.
Culture I am consuming:
I finished Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones. At the risk of committing hyperbole I’ll say that it explains so much about American culture and politics right now. “Heroin is, I believe, the final expression of values we have fostered for 35 years,” writes Quinones. “A life that finds opiates turns away from family and community and devotes itself entirely to self-gratification by buying and consuming one product—the drug that makes being alone not just all right, but preferable. I believe more strongly than ever that the antidote to heroin is community.”
That quote oversimplifies the author’s approach to addiction treatment, which he thinks includes medication and counseling and all the rest, but his big point is right on target with what I’ve seen while reporting on this crisis. Consumerism, isolation, and self-gratification are killing us.
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