In the late 1970s, I was teaching as an adjunct in the English Department of California State University, Los Angeles (not to be confused with UCLA). Mostly I taught composition, then required for graduation. One of the regular faculty on the hallway where I shared an office with another adjunct (whose hours were different from mine) was the scholar David Kubal. He kindly began to give me his copies of the New Yorker when he was done with an issue, and Wendy and I began the practice (which we continued until sometime in the 2000s) of settling in bed one night a week with the magazine and making our way through all the cartoons in the issue, plus the witty fillers that then appeared in the mag.
It was just at that time (1978) that Roz Chast’s cartoons began appearing in the New Yorker. We loved her immediately and have continued to do so. (At some point I may write a column taking off from her book published last fall, I Must Be Dreaming.) The subjects she takes up in What I Hate are not what you might expect; the book could have been titled “Things I’m Afraid Of,” ranging alphabetically from “Alien Abduction” to “Heights” to “Quicksand” and so on. But rereading the book recently with Wendy, I thought how much fun it would be if I could collaborate with an artist in Chast’s league on a similarly formatted book in which I could vent about “things I hate.”
Alas, no artist. And there are other problems. (“You’re talking about things you ‘hate,’ and you don’t even mention injustice?”) If you begin to second-guess and self-censor, you’ll never get off the ground. So here we go. The list is not alphabetical; it could be much longer, but it does include some of the things I genuinely hate.
The speed of TV commercials. These days I don’t watch TV except for sports. But there are lots of ads in a football game, say. The trend in the ads I see has been to cram more and more images into a single ad, the camera lingering here or there for just a split-second. I turn the sound down, of course, but now I have to close my eyes to avoid the bombardment. Honestly, the ads hurt my brain. It’s fascinating, in a creepy way. I assume this “evolution” is related to smartphones (I don’t have one). And since the advertisers obviously want to influence their audience, many people (most of them, naturally, much younger than I am) must respond positively to this barrage.
People who talk about “the unprecedented threat to our democracy” (and so on, ad nauseam). Is the problem that they don’t know enough? That they haven’t studied American history? Sometimes, yes, but more often they just don’t care.
The stuff people say about “American evangelicalism.” Don’t get me started. I can’t afford to have a stroke right now, if I can help it.
The fate of newspapers. I think we’re the only household on the block that still gets a newspaper in print delivered each day (we have two: the Chicago Tribune, which is but a shadow of itself, and the Wall Street Journal).
Drive-by attacks on homeschooling. Not just “factually inaccurate” but willfully so.
Self-styled “realists” who explain (as if addressing idiots) why the U.S. should cease supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia. Among them, alas, are some very smart people, whose judgment I generally respect.
Libraries getting rid of most of their older books (“de-accessioning,” they call it).
Of course, I sometimes have a change of heart. For a long time, I resisted the notion that the National League should adopt the designated hitter (as long has been the case in the American League). In retrospect, that resistance now seems foolish. There is a genuine danger in “nursing” our hates, becoming proud of them, letting them define us.
And there is so much to be thankful for, to take delight in, to celebrate: the birds at the feeder in the backyard, for instance, a source of endless delight for Wendy and me as they go about their business. I hope our grandchildren, when they are grown, can say the same, and our grandchildren’s grandchildren.
John Wilson is a contributing editor for The Englewood Review of Books and senior editor at The Marginalia Review of Books.
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