The false appeal of the new

Pick a ‘great books’ list – any of the many – and look at the publication dates. For example, this one. Here is the top ten from that list, with the publication dates.

top books

Note that only three of the top ten books on this list are from the 20th century, and none are post-2000. On the other hand, there are over 60,000 new novels published each year. So, what are the odds that any of this year’s new books makes it onto anyone’s great books list? Clearly, the odds are: none.

Yet, hope abides. New books get attention. Look at the storefront of any bookstore, or the reading list of any book club. Here are the three most recent selections from a local book club.

book club

Note that each of these books was published within the last two years.

The same thing happens with film – the most modern art form. Here are the top ten ‘great films’ from the list on the web site IMDB:

book club

The newest film on the list is nearly twenty years old. Sources indicate around 700 films are released commercially each year. What are the odds that any of the 700 from any one year becomes a ‘great film’?

The same thing occurs in any creative field. Take music. There are probably around 20,000 new recordings released each year. How many of these will be remembered a year later? The 2014 Album of the Year award at the Grammys went to Daft Punk, for their recording ‘Random Access Memories’. A year earlier it was Mumford & Sons for ‘Babel’. Will anyone remember them 20 years from now?

I’m not criticizing current creative endeavor. There is no evidence that more or less good/great art is produced today than at any other time. My beef is with the love affair with NEW. I’m crying ‘fraud’ and saying that rather than listening to new music, reading new books, watching new films, our time is better spent with works from the past that are already reviewed, tested, and proven great.

I know most of you will ignore this and keep on rolling the dice, buying the new books…renting the new films; and thank you! After all, you are the patrons that fund the engine that grinds out all the new content. If that engine falters or slows, then there are no new great works of art. So, please, keep it up!

The bottom line
I encourage those of you who are more discriminating to resist the constant calls to look at all the new stuff. Relatively speaking, it’s junk. Instead, spend a little effort to find the great stuff from the past that’s already sitting there, waiting for you.

For the rest of you, thanks for funding the ‘new art’ lottery!


In the midst of all the back and forth of news on different issues, sometimes it’s good to go back and look at what was actually said – the solemn, ironclad, commitments and assurances.

Russia invaded Ukraine, much like Russia invaded Crimea. The west seems unwilling to help, just as we were unwilling to help Poland in 1939. Look back to promises made to Ukraine in December, 1994.

The UK Prime Minister and the Presidents of Ukraine, Russia, and the US signed memoranda committing their countries to support the territorial integrity of the new nation of Ukraine. These memoranda included the following statements, emphasis added by me:

Russia, the US and UK…

reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine…reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations…reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty and thus to secure advantages of any kind…

Regarding Iran, the Obama administration was as clear as clear could be in assuring Israel of its support, and promising that Iran will not be allowed to get nuclear weapons. ‘Period.’ Here are extracts from a statement by the US Ambassador to the United Nations, on March 2 of this year:

I am struck that when I read about alleged policy differences on the Iran nuclear negotiations, I rarely see mention of the foundational strategic agreement between the United States and Israel – an agreement that undergirds our entire engagement with Iran. The United States of America will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. Period…
Now, let me put President Obama’s commitment to denying Iran a nuclear weapon in context…the President not only committed to denying Iran a nuclear weapon before negotiations with Iran began, he has reiterated the same commitment during negotiations, and he will keep his commitment whether negotiations collapse or produce a diplomatic solution that meets our bottom lines.
Maybe the President has made this point so often that it isn’t heard in the same way anymore, but we have to keep repeating it – talks, no talks, agreement, no agreement – the United States will take whatever steps are necessary … if diplomacy should fail, we know the stakes of a nuclear-armed Iran as well as everyone here. We will not let it happen.

The bottom line
In both cases, commitments are clearly in question. Ukraine’s sovereignty was violated, but the memoranda do not specify consequences. The administration’s promise to deny nuclear weapons to Iran still stands, and without time limits. Time will tell.