Thomas Mann, Guilty Pleasures and Other Letters to the Editor

This ignores the possibility that culture, not race, is what is being described. It might seem unlikely that adjectives such as “at all proud of his essence”, assuming they exist, are racist in origin. Could it actually be inadvertently racist to think that ethnic origin is what is being asserted?

Generalizing from there, is it possible to criticize any aspect of a culture without appearing to be criticizing the humanity of its adherents? We criticized Tocqueville, and we are the best for it. Otherwise, everything is culturally relative. Cultural relativism is a useful idea. Its universal application is stifling.

Peter Yates
Culver City, California.

To the editor:

I wish you’d stop asking superstars to “mention their books”. Why reinforce the assumption that anything we read causes or should generate feelings of guilt?

Reading is not the same as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol. You can indulge in reading as much as you want without fear of cancer or cirrhosis. I don’t feel guilty about my reading choices. Few notice what I read, and those who notice withhold judgment.

Well, most of the time, that is it. I got home about 30 years ago and sent the following message on my phone: “Mr. English, this is Agnes from Somerville Library. The address you requested [she switches to an embarrassed whisper]I smell Esther Williams. [back to normal speaking volume]ready to leave.”

Like I say, no fault. But, just for clarity, the above book is a surreal compilation of the comic novel by Mark Lehner. It’s no more a book about Esther Williams than “Fifty Shades of Gray” about Sherwin Williams.

David English
Acton, Mass.

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