Friday, June 12, 2020

May Reading

I began this post a week ago Monday, but then found myself unable to complete it. I've spent the ten or twelve days since debating whether I'll continue blogging at all, wondering about the value of my words but also about the responsibilities or obligations that this space might carry at a time when anti-racist work is more important than ever. . . but also when the expectations for that work can seem to demand forms of activism that are not mine. . . As you'll see immediately below, this is what I was already mulling Monday before last; it's just taken me this long to emerge again.

A Monday morning that makes any effort at continuity nonsensical. And yet . . . To sort my way toward seeing what this hummingbird might do to put out the raging forest fires of racism (never mind the already overwhelming context of a frightening pandemic burning its way across the world). . . To do that, I seem to need that continuity, to work within its possibilities until I can see where to break away, where to stretch, where to pause. . . .

So I'm going to go ahead with a post I've planned, sharing my reading journal pages for May.  But I'd like to begin by reminding you about a book I referred to in my last post, Ibram X. Kendi's How To Be an Anti-Racist.  This morning, I posted a page from that book on Instagram, the page in which Kendi explains why we need to move from "not being racist" to "being anti-racist." I would also recommend, again, another book I wrote about in my last post, Jesmyn Ward's memoir, Men We Reaped. Ward's novels Salvage the Bones and her Sing, Unburied, Sing, both of which I wrote about here, testify powerfully and movingly to the ongoing and systemic racism that continues, somehow, to be ignored. Inconvenient truths indeed.

That's all I will say about that for now. I know we're all mulling, in our own way, what we can do to effect the necessary change.  I'm going to hold space here, for now, to do that. And meanwhile, provide some continuity as well, so as to try to hold onto this little community of thoughtful readers, that means so much to me.

My reading this past month skewed a bit lighter, beginning with
Donna Leon's The Waters of Eternal Youth (borrowed from Vancouver Public Library as an e-book, via my OverDrive app)



I posted a couple of favourite pages on Instagram.  The passage in which Paula tells Brunetti what she does when she's stuck talking to one of the "men who know everything" exemplifies so much of what I love about this series. . . .

And that's as far as I got. . .
I'll continue now by moving to my 31st title for 2020's reading, Kyung-Sook Shin's beautifully moving novel (translated by Chi-Yong Kim) Please Look After Mom.  Thanks so much for recommending this, Dottoressa!
 The novel's structure allows us to construct a holographic view of the mother:  narration moves from one adult sibling to another, as they look for Mom. She's lost herself in the busy city of Seoul after being separated from her husband (always impatient with her, always walking too quickly ahead) at the train station where the elderly couple had arrived from their country village home to visit their children (all of whom were too busy to pick them up). There are also sections told by the husband and by the mother. , ,

While the novel draws illuminating, detail-rich sketches of life in Korea -- scenery, culture, domestic life, food, differences between urban and rural living, changes over seventy years -- the problems of the mother-child relationship, of the ageing mother, were powerfully resonant, so many poignant moments translated above and beyond cultural differences.

I posted an example on Instagram, photos of two pages that tell of a candid and revealing conversation between mother and adult daughter
Book 32 of the year was Shari Lapena's The Couple Next Door.  I must have seen this recommended somewhere online and coincidentally found the e-book available at the library.  Apparently I wasn't impressed. . . .

In retrospect, especially in this historical time when racialized writers deserve our attention more than ever, I'm a bit uncomfortable with my lukewarm journal response to Cherie Dimaline's The Marrow Thieves. I would temper that response now by telling you that many readers (far beyond a YA readership) have lauded the book (as evidenced by the awards it's garnered). Certainly, I found it exponentially more interesting than Book 32, above, and it's fairer to judge it that way, against other genre novels. I think I was just hoping for a novel that better filled the promise I saw in her collection of linked short stories, Red Room (mentioned in this post).  But if you're looking to broaden your reading and expose yourself to exciting First Nations (Native American, indigenous, depending on your country's terminology) writing, this book entertains, moves, disturbs, and provokes thought. . .

We're fortunate enough to have not one, but two, indigenous-owned bookstores within walking distance. I got my copy of The Marrow Thieves from Massy Books and hope to visit Iron Dog Books soon.  Bookstores here are gradually re-opening, and I'm still thinking about how comfortable I'll be browsing in my face mask, but I do need a copy of Dimaline's latest book, Empire of Wild. Eden Robinson and Tommy Orange have both recommended it. Who am I to argue?!
Last book in today's post is Taffy Brodesser-Akner's Fleishman Is in Troublei
lent to me by my daughter -- an astute and prolific reader whose recommendations I always trust. As you'll see if you can read my scrawl in the photo below, I might not have kept reading beyond the first couple of chapters if she hadn't given it to me.
I'm glad I trusted her. . . .
And that's it! I'm still reading Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light (so many parallels with our current situation -- commentary about rulers (I won't write "leaders" when the term doesn't apply) and their advisors. Henry VIII, in all his kingly arrogance, deferred to Cromwell's experience and pragmatic, if often ruthless, wisdom. . . . Clear parallels in the rumblings of potential civil war. . . .
You can see, perhaps, why I needed to take a quick detour to Venice with Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti . . . . but that's for next post.

Meanwhile, I'm curious about what you're reading -- and perhaps, also, about how your reading has shifted, or is shifting, in response to this powerful movement of solidarity against racism and against state/police brutality. All taking place, of course, within the context of a pandemic that continues to unsettle us in so many ways.  . .  I know that affects our reading as well. How to balance? Reading for comfort, for entertainment, for diversion, but also reading to learn, to develop empathy, to broaden our perspective, to find hope.  Small questions for you today ;-)
xo,
f





7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm so very glad your post on "How to be an anti-racist" came well before the events of the past few weeks. As it turned out, it was a very timely recommendation and it has been an eye-opener for me. I was immediately struck by how easy it would be to insert the word Indigenous into so many of his statements (statistics on health care, home ownership, incarceration rates, police encounters, etc.)And his emphasis on policy is just as relevant here.

In other reading, I'm late to the party but I just finished Elena Ferrante's "My Brilliant Friend." I also just discovered the read-along you hosted a while ago and will check that out too. I read "The Waters of Eternal Youth" a while ago and like you, enjoyed the conversations with Paula. Often when I read a Brunetti mystery I'm anxious for him to return to his apartment for more insights from Paula (those episodes also make me yearn for a glass of Prosecco!) A friend loaned me a stack of Peter May books - most of the China series and the French series. I'm not enjoying them nearly as much as the Shetland books. I think I would have preferred a stack of Donna Leon titles!
Finally, thank you Dottoressa for your recommendations last time. They're high on my TBR list!
Frances in Sidney

materfamilias said...

Frances: So pleased that you found that recommendation of Kendi's book worthwhile. And you're absolutely correct that almost everything he says would be true of systemic racism here in Canada, especially toward indigenous people.
Isn't the Ferrante something? That was a very good year for international literary fiction, it seems to me. Those four volumes offer so much insight into women's lives and aspirations and friendships over those decades in Naples and in Italy, but they are also brilliant at capturing the political and social movements of the postwar period, throughout the last half of the twentieth century (and, obviously, still having repercussions)
I liked Peter May's Shetland books very much, but the French ones (Enzo files?) not so much (to be honest, I found them irritatingly sexist, just a bit too often). May try again and if Sue's so keen on the China ones, perhaps I will try one of those. Brunetti hasn't bored or irritated me in 10 or 15 years of reading. . . .

Linda said...

Thank you for the recommendation of Kendi's book. I have been looking for books to order to inform me. Toppings booksellers of of Edinburgh (@toppingsedin) had a post of recommendations on Instagram recently and I'm going to start with "Why I'm No Longer Talking About Race", by Reni Eddo-Lodge. I live in a breathtakingly white part of the UK and need to educate myself. In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, when I was saying how much I missed the multicultural nature of Edinburgh compared to where I now am I was stunned to be told by a (university-educated) schoolfriend that she voted to leave the EU so that there would be "fewer coloured faces on our streets". I need to equip myself to push back effectively.
I have found little time for reading just now. This is our time when it doesn't get dark at night, to counter our long winter darkness. When it's still light in the west at midnight and the sunrise is showing in the east at 2 am and in between is a twilight it's hard to settle inside. I am making rather heavy weather of La Montagne Magique by Thomas Mann. Turning out to be less enthralling on its re-read 40 years later but I am determined not to be defeated. I enjoyed "Revolution Française: Emmanuel Macron and the Quest to Reinvent a Nation" by Sophie Pedder (Paris correspondent of The Economist). Oh for a Macron here! If my daughter would hurry up and finish "Why Nations Fail" by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, and "The Blunders of Our Governments" by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe I would move on to those.

materfamilias said...

Linda: Wow! That's an upsetting comment to hear from a schoolfriend! I remembering hearing one of my older cousins say that when we visited him and his wife in London about 20 years ago. And she gently reminded him, as if she were being progressively liberal, how much they loved Indian food. . . . (subtext, of course, being that tolerance was in order for the sake of Madhur Jaffrey cookbooks!)
I have to stretch to think of reading Thomas Mann in a French translation (although my husband once asked for a French headset for the self-guided tour of Barcelona's Fundació Miró...he'd been rocking his French in Paris and embraced a chance to maintain it during our few days in Spain. The clerk was supportive but bemused.
As for bemused, many French citizens will be so at the notion of other nations' citizens wishing for his leadership. But you have a very good case ;-)

BuffaloGal said...

I have definitely moved to more "comfort reading" during this crisis. It felt fairly grim in NY during the Spring months. As Summer approached, I read "Maybe you Should talk to Someone" by Lori Gottlieb. It came highly recommended by a good friend, but I found it 5 chapters too long and slightly repetitive. Still, it was useful in reminding me that we can change ourselves and our reactions, but not others. "Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?" by Alyssa Masttromonaco (she was Barach Obama's close assistant for 6 years) was less "dishy" than I would have liked , but then again, I doubt President Obama would have kept someone willing to spill all so close to his office for 6 years. I guess it was wishful thinking! I have just begun The Yellow House by Sarah Broom. This seems like a book to sink your teeth into.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Frances in Sydney. I've read and love all of Brunetti's (Donna Leon's) books, mostly for him and his family, especially Paula, she is a remarkable women and they are a wonderful couple, no? I prefer Peter May's Shetland books, but have read five of his China series as well. Will start Dorothy L. Sayers from the beginning for some comfort reading
Dottoressa

Mardel said...

Kendi’s book is (still) on my too read list, but not yet on my stack, as is Why I No Longer Talk To White People.... As to June reading, I finished the the third volume of Manchester’s biography of Winston Churchill. Paul Reid is not William Manchester, but it was still quite good. I also read Shofookeh Azar’s the Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree and re-read Milkman for book club. Other than a lot of thriller-type books, currently Mick Herron. I’ve worked through the first four Slough House books and am starting London Rules, which is proving a necessary relief between reading Ben Crump’s Open Season. My reading list is currently full as I recently received Ottesseh Moshfegh’s new novel Death in Her Hands, and picked up three holds from the library. Somehow they never manage to space themselves out properly.