Arts & Culture


The Lost Art of Dying: Reviving Forgotten Wisdom
L. S. Dugdale ’18MAR
HarperOne, $27.99

More than 600 years ago, during a plague, an anonymous author wrote the Tractatus artis bene moriendi, or “Treatise on the Art of Dying Well.” Much of the wisdom presented in that ancient guidebook has been shelved by modern medical technology. In her work treating dying patients—especially during the COVID surge—Dugdale, who trained and taught at Yale and is now at Columbia, saw the need for an updated ars moriendi. Her book shows how to embrace such timeless virtues as “patience, hope, humility, faith, and ‘letting go.’”

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism
Anne Applebaum ’86
Doubleday, $25

To celebrate the end and beginning of the millennium, journalist and historian Applebaum threw a party at the house in Poland that she and her husband, a deputy foreign minister in the then–pro-European government, were restoring. Everyone there might have been on the same democratic page at the end of 1999—but these days, she writes, “about half the people who were at that party would no longer speak to the other half.”  Applebaum provides both a chilling examination of how democratic ideals and institutions can drown in authoritarian-manufactured “cacophony and chaos” and advice on how to swim against a rising tide.

Take Arms Against a Sea of Troubles: The Power of the Reader’s Mind over a Universe of Death
Harold Bloom ’55PhD
Yale University Press, $35

When the über–literary critic Harold Bloom went “into the Great Perhaps,” at age 89, he had one more book in the works. Bloom, the Sterling Professor of the Humanities, wrote that his final book had been created in a “cavalcade of illnesses and accidents” and “dictated to generous assistants in hospitals and rehabilita-tion centers.” “In what sense does deep reading augment life? Can it render death only another hoyden?” he asks at the start of his last work. The book is a deeply personal reflection on writers from Shakespeare to Whitman to Dickinson to Freud—and many other “great poems, plays, novels, and stories [that] teach us how to go on living, even when submerged under forty fathoms of bother and distress.”
Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live
Nicholas A. Christakis ’84
Little, Brown Spark, $29

Christakis, the Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science and a physician and sociologist who studies human nature, has written one of the first COVID-19 books, even as the world continues to grapple with the disease. He covers the historical background, from the 1918 flu to more recent threats that were beaten back (think SARS). He dissects the early stages of the coronavirus spread, showing how the delinquency of certain nations (think China and the US) failed their citizens. He also provides ingenious ideas about how the virus’s mutations may change its nature and how people’s behavior can shape the trajectory of infection.  There is much valuable information in this expansive book—including this hopeful reminder: “Plagues always end.”

David Tolchinsky ’85 and on YouTube

Tolchinsky, who founded and runs the MFA Writing for Screen and Stage program at Northwestern University, has written and directed a tightly wound horror thriller about sinister doings “at the old Wilson farm up in Monroe.” Cassandra found a loving home on Alter, a horror-themed website. The film walks the walk: moody car ride, creepy wildlife, agitated man in a gloomy house, flashbacks to a disturbed child, leaps into the supernatural, and shocks too shocking to relate here—all in 12 suspenseful yet moodily restrained minutes. Cassandra spooks you, getting inside your head and outside your comfort zone quickly, coolly, and chillingly.

Class Half Full
Jordan Gunn and Ben Dettelback ’22MusM
podcast on, Apple Podcasts, Spotify

Dettelback, a trombonist currently studying at the Yale School of Music, and Jordan Gunn, a cellist from Illinois, don’t want us to think of classical music as a “fancy-pants” fascination. Their chatty show somewhat resembles all those podcasts in which hosts gush about their favorite sci-fi TV series or craft projects. They finish each other’s sentences. They crack each other up with bad jokes. Class Half Full isn’t about elitist enlightenment. It’s about enjoyment.

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