Century Marks

Century Marks

World lit

In 2012 Ann Morgan, a London freelance writer, set the goal of reading one book from each country in the world during that year. To cover 197 countries Morgan had to read four books a week. When she could find no books in translation from São Tomé, a small Portuguese-speaking island off Africa, volunteer translators came to the rescue in response to pleas via Facebook and Twitter. Her favorites from that year of reading: Galsan Tschinag, The Blue Sky (Mongolia); Jamil Ahmad, The Wander­ing Falcon (Pakistan); Tete-Michel Kpo­massie, An African in Greenland (Togo); and Nu Nu Yi, Smile as They Bow (Myan­mar) (Atlantic, December 24).

Street smarts

Chris Murphy, junior senator from Connecticut, spent a day shadowing a homeless man on the streets of New Haven. “Fred” is a former advertising salesperson who made some bad choices, developed an addiction, lost his job and ended up on the streets. Murphy doesn’t have particular legislation in mind, but he wanted to see what homelessness is like so as to better understand what government can do to help. What struck him was Fred’s determination to work at taking responsibility and the amount of hope he sensed among the homeless that “there is still a better day coming” (New Haven Independent, December 31).

Bach burned out?

A recently discovered letter by a former student of J. S. Bach has pundits in Germany suggesting that Bach may have been burned out as a musician in his later years. In the letter the student, applying for a cantor position in his home church, claims that he had led musical performances at the Leipzig churches where Bach was conductor. The years coincided with Bach’s final two years of life, suggesting that he used a student as his substitute. Some analysts warn against making such a judgment centuries after Bach’s death. He had poor eyesight, which could explain his delegating the conducting to a student. We do know that Bach composed very little church music in his last decade (Deutsche Welle, December 27).

Loving rich and poor

Pope Francis’s comments in support of the poor and critical of the rich are apparently making Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s job harder. The cardinal is trying to raise $180 million to renovate St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Ken Langone, a Catholic billionaire who cofounded Home Depot, complained to Dolan, ostensibly on behalf of a wealthy Catholic friend, saying that the church should cut out the finger-pointing at the rich. “You get more with honey than with vinegar,” he said. Dolan reportedly said that the offended donor misunderstood the pope’s comments. “The pope loves poor people, he also loves rich people—he loves people,” Dolan explained to CNBC (Los Angeles Times, January 3).

Bedeviled details

A glimmer of hope remains that some kind of immigration reform bill will get through Congress in 2014. But if it does, it might not be what many have hoped for. The current immigration reform bill in the Senate calls for the United States to pocket all previous contributions made to Social Security by undocumented immigrants. If they do become citizens, these people would lose a benefit for which they worked and would likely experience severe poverty in their senior years (Chicago Tribune, January 3).