Apr 29, 2021 4 min read

#291: Wider Than The Sky

#291: Wider Than The Sky

Happy Thursday, loyal readers. Thank you for being here. Today I’m announcing “The Official Countdown to Issue #300.” No, I’m not sure what all of that means yet, but it promises to be exciting. I hope you’ll join me in the festivities! (Your ideas welcome.) This week’s issue is quintessential Highl

Happy Thursday, loyal readers. Thank you for being here. Today I’m announcing “The Official Countdown to Issue #300.” No, I’m not sure what all of that means yet, but it promises to be exciting. I hope you’ll join me in the festivities! (Your ideas welcome.)

This week’s issue is quintessential Highlighter eclectic: You get a braided essay on love, an historical analysis on whiteness, a profile on a school run amok, and a personal reflection on typing. I’m eager to hear your thoughts on these pieces, so please hit reply and share.

If you have limited time to read this week, I highly recommend today’s lead article, “Wider Than The Sky.” In addition to being about love and death (two of my go-to topics), the piece is an ode to our brains. We might think we have free will, and agency, and consciousness, but our brains are big, and their 100 billion neurons will keep doing what they’re doing regardless — which is usually beautiful and amazing, unless or until it’s not.

+ Big gratitude to everyone who joined Article Club last Sunday to discuss Bill Buford’s “Baking Bread in Lyon.” Mr. Buford was great, but you were even better! Congratulations,


, for winning the book, and thank you,




, for facilitating. I’ll be revealing May’s article this weekend. If you’re looking for a community reading experience that’s most likely less stressful and more enjoyable than your book club (no offense), you’ll like Article Club. (For the record: I love my book club.)

Wider Than The Sky

Wider Than The Sky

Phyllis Beckman: “The human brain, so humble in appearance, is both fragile in form and resilient in function. Scientists like to say, and many of us like to repeat, that it is the most complex object in the known universe. We say this with satisfaction and, if we are honest, with a degree of hubris.

“Despite our very human pride, the fact remains that the brain, with no apparent effort from us, creates and holds within it one’s world and one’s self. There is resistance on the part of some to accept the concept that this three-pound mass of jelly somehow creates consciousness, provides us with an identity, and enables us to love.

“But I will tell you this: damage the brain and you damage the mind; you alter the personality and change the very essence of the person. My brain and I are companions, partners in the creation of this evolving story that is me. This is the most enduring and intimate relationship I will know. If it should leave me, I would be unable, even, to grieve.” (36 min)

The Invention Of Whiteness

“What shall we do with the white people?” asked William J. Wilson in The Anglo-African Magazine in 1860. We’re asking the same question now, argues Robert P. Baird in this well-written essay on whiteness. Mr. Baird takes an historical approach, detailing how whiteness rationalized slavery, how color-blindness narrowed the definition of white supremacy, and how whiteness studies advocated abolition of the race. “Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity,” Noel Ignatiev wrote in Race Traitor in 1992, urging white people to disavow the privileges of the label. But Mr. Baird says that’s impossible, likening whiteness to climate change. (30 min)

Hi there! This is me, in case we’ve never met. Thank you for being a loyal reader.

Going For Woke: How Brentwood School Became A Battleground In The Culture Wars

The elite like to talk a progressive game, but when their fancy private school wants to make real changes, like shifting its curriculum, well, that’s a different story. This profile of Brentwood School in Los Angeles (parents include Barry Bonds, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Calista Flockhart) explores the ideological skirmishes following George Floyd’s murder. How does an exclusive school become inclusive? Who gets to decide if eighth graders read To Kill a Mockingbird? (18 min)

+ I wonder what Caitlin Flanagan, author of “Private Schools Are Indefensible” (#285), thinks about this piece. Maybe I’ll ask her! She joins AC in July.

Why Am I Sp Bad At Typign?

When I tell people that my only real skill is typing, I’m only half joking. (My middle school teacher Mrs. Schaefer gets all the credit.) For Katie Notopoulos, though, typing is not a source of joy. But instead of complaining, she interviews cognitive scientists, mechanical keyboard connoisseurs, and ultimate typing champions, learning about dystypia, the effects of long fingernails, and the reasoning behind autocomplete. Her conclusion: “The act of typing is a miracle in our brains.” (18 min)

+ How fast can you type?

Thank you

for reading another issue of The Highlighter. Did you enjoy it? Let me know by clicking on “Yes” or ”No” below. I like hearing from you.

Also, to our three new subscribers — including


— I hope you find the newsletter a solid addition to your email inbox. To our long-time subscribers (e.g.,

Susan! Micki! Jason!

), you’re pretty great, too.

If you like The Highlighter, please help it grow. I appreciate your support. Here are a few ways you can help:

On the other hand, if you no longer want to receive this newsletter, please unsubscribe. See you next Thursday at 9:10 am PT!

Join the conversation

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
You've successfully subscribed to Big Reading.
Your link has expired.
Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.
Success! Your billing info has been updated.
Your billing was not updated.