* “Why a Generation in Japan Is Facing a Lonely Death,” a completely fascinating but also depressing piece.
* “Out of the Shire: Life Beyond Tolkien.” It’s interesting to me that almost no one gets to Tolkien’s quality level except Philip Pullman and Ursula K. le Guin.
* The western elite from a Chinese perspective.
* “Sex Through the Looking Glass:” “The New Politics of Sex: The Sexual Revolution, Civil Liberties, and The Growth of Governmental Power is a comprehensive analysis of this process of overturning, showing how it has played out in virtually every social venue.” As usual things have not gone according to utopian plan.
* “A tad of gay holds sway,” or why homosexuality persists in the gene pool when it seemingly shouldn’t.
* “The Great American Single-Family Home Problem” will be familiar to readers but is still useful.
* Noah Smith: “Trump happened because conservatism failed.” A better reading than many.
* “Pretty Birds in Pretty Cages: Could the Nuclear Family Be the Reason We’re All Miserable?” Not just the usual. I’d like to see the way current living arrangements are straightjacketed by zoning.
* The Consumerist Church of Fitness Classes. I’m partway through Helen Dale’s amazing novel The Kingdom of the Wicked, which engages this idea (among many, many others). Many people also treat art as a kind of secular religion.
* “Generational Moralizing Is Not Enough: To defend free speech, its proponents must step outside their own echo chamber.”
* “How to Get Your Mind to Read.” Note: “Don’t blame the internet, or smartphones, or fake news for Americans’ poor reading. Blame ignorance. Turning the tide will require profound changes in how reading is taught, in standardized testing and in school curriculums.” I’m not sure how much of this is schools’ fault and how much is the “fault” of individuals in the general population: people who want to read, read, and those who don’t, don’t.
I think I know why few writers have managed to do what Tolkien did. He didn’t set out to write a derivative work; he had something to say, and only a fictionalized world built from his unique combination of obsessions, sensibilities, and areas of expertise could properly say it. I suspect that to some extent, the same is true of Le Guin and Pullman. As the daughter of anthropologists, Le Guin found that speculative fiction full of mythic archetypes is the perfect venue for her thoughts. I’ve not read any Pullman, but he’s all about critiquing religion, isn’t he? Fantasy is a good (and cleverly counterintuitive) genre for that.
My hunch is that many people writing subpar fantasy might be better off writing in some other genre that’s better suited to whatever it is their trying to say. And in at least a few cases, the authors may just love the trappings of the genre without having anything worthwhile to say.