Tag: Non-Fiction

Reading David Graeber and David Wengrow’s THE DAWN OF EVERYTHING: A NEW HISTORY OF HUMANITY

The_Dawn_Of_EverythingI was immersed in Graeber and Wengrow’s brick of a book for the final week of my Christmas holiday. With a province once again locked down and curfewed and a low-grade pandemic-engendered melancholy, it nevertheless buoyed my spirits. Dawn of Everything is optimistic, ambitious, and convincing. It’s written with a populist bent I found headily accessible and likeable. I liked that the authors weren’t shy, or coy about their political leanings: left-wing, anarchist, and equal parts communal and humanist. (And I liked that they started out by pointing critiques at Steven Pinker and Yuval Harari; though I have respect for the latter, I have eye-rolling contempt for the former. If Pinker is quixotically positive about what he doesn’t recognize as our present predicaments, then Harari is beautifully, more temperamentally-in-tune-with-yours-truly pessimistic.) The “Davids”, as I’ve heard them called on various podcasts, are here to answer the question “why we’re stuck?” with the answer, “we’re not,” maybe qualified to “we don’t have to be,” and, though it takes them 700 pages to say so, the ride is fun, which doesn’t make it any less serious or scholarly.   (more…)

2021: Some Reading, Much Listening, Very Little by Way of Watching …

Well, folks, it’s been a year, hasn’t it? Another year, another covid variant, or two, or three… And here we are again, Zoom-bound and footie-pyjamas-donned, growing more feral and introverted. At least I am.

This year, I gave up any attempt to bake bread and Twitter. While I didn’t read as many books as I wanted to, I regained some reading focus, got through more grading, and started to take a daily walk, all formerly abandoned by mindless Twitter scrolling. I gave up trying to raise my Netgalley stats by reviewing ARCs and stopped requesting them. (I have an ARC “backlist” stretching to “the crack of doom,” so you’ll still see me review one occasionally. At this end of another pandemic year, I have a diminishing desire to read romance; sad, but there it is.)

I ordered more books and maintained a TBR I might get through if I have a future as Methuselah. I saw a friend and went to a café (at the same time; I don’t do things by halves, when I go, I go BIG), something I haven’t done in two years. I haven’t been to a museum, restaurant, or movie, and don’t think I ever will. I did read some books, not as many as I wanted to (see Twitter addiction, now broken), but 2022 looks good reading-wise.

I did a lot of cooking and baking and listened to podcasts while I did. Emerging from lockdowns meant commuting again, so I listened in the car too. Here’s my listening and reading year, or at least what I remember of it. (I used to watch films; this year, I managed two: News of the World, which I loved, and Nomadland, which I hated. I did watch my southern neighbours cut through the Gordian knot of their democracy on January 6th and, to mix my allusions, remain convinced no one can put Humpty-Dumpty back together. I also watched, with deep shame and horror, the revelations of my own country’s reprehensible treatment of indigenous peoples. Again, like most, I watched covid news with equal parts dread and hope.)    (more…)

Reading Laurie Colwin’s HOME COOKING

Home_CookingI want 2022 to be a reading year where I read more and from a variety of genres. Given that I’m now on holiday from work/school (my work is school, I teach hyper-anxious, overachieving teens) and have abandoned all hope of catching up on grading, I thought I’d get an early start. I want to read more non-fiction, but since falling off the serious-reading bandwagon, I’m daunted by some of the titles in my non-fiction TBR, witness Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, or Masha Gessen’s The Future Is History, to name a few. I thought I’d start easy, short, and discrete. I read Laurie Colwin’s collection of essays, Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, and thank the Twitter-friend who suggested it.  (more…)

Miss Bates’s 2020 Year-End “Review”

Sky_Dec_31_2020Dear readers and friends, if there’s one quotation that ran through my mind this annus horribilis, it’s Fitzgerald’s, “It occurred to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence, or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well” (The Great Gatsby). And we have lived it every single day since March, when the subtle rumbling of the covid avalanche came to our attention. Then, lockdown … and a strange, united elation of singing from balconies and applauding health care workers and a kind of strange peace for those of us staying home that took the form of bread-baking and staring out windows. And, what I thought would be “reading time”, despite WFH. It wasn’t. Not the reading time part: instead a length of days, lost, in dream and lethargy. Of the books I did read, few stood out. Here they are. (more…)

Samantha Harvey’s THE SHAPELESS UNEASE: A Year of Not Sleeping

The_Shapeless_UneaseMy sole response to reaching the end of Samantha Harvey’s The Shapeless Unease was gratitude, not to Harvey, but to reaching the end and not giving up. It was a long, difficult slog, but I made it, sheer stubbornness propelling me forward to its vague conclusion. It’s not a terrible book, not by litfic, and not memfic, standards: it has the requisite lyrical prose, occasional, brilliant insight, only to lapse into lyrical existential-babble that hopes to dissolve the self, or digressive, tangential passages, never coming together with what came before, or what comes after.

Initially, I was drawn to the topic, but driven away by the style. As someone who has experienced bouts of insomnia, one in particular, I’d say, debilitating, and is an obsessive lover of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the greatest account of insomnias ever written, I wanted to read Harvey’s memoir. It started out great: Harvey, a regular sleeper pre-year-of-not-sleeping, recounts the incident at the heart of her not-sleeping: her cousin’s death. My understanding, and who knows, given the impenetrable style, I may be wrong, is that Harvey’s insomnia is linked to an existential dread of death, triggered by her cousin’s loss: “my cousin’s death has invited all deaths”. (more…)

Summer Reading: A Wow Book

Say_NothingDespite a week of family and work obligations, I spent most of it rushing back from an errand, or logging off a Zoom meeting eager to return to Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland. (If you read one nonfiction text this year, make it this one.) It’s remarkable and, rare in nonfiction, written with spare, clear, elegant prose. It is, as the subtitle makes obvious, an account of “the troubles” in Northern Ireland, from the 1970s conflagrations to present-day; vague images of fires and bombs on the television news as I was growing up. Radden Keefe brought things home: I grew up in a society divided along fraught, linguistic lines; one who, like Northern Ireland, stood on the brink of chronic sectarian violence. (In 1970, as I walked to school, Canadian soldiers manned every street corner: the FLQ kidnapped the British Trade Commissioner, James Cross, ironically Irish-born, and deputy premier Pierre Laporte. Unlike Northern Ireland, though Laporte was killed and Westmount mailboxes bombed, Quebec slid into sullen stability: the English fled; the French stayed; allophones endured; language laws passed; separatist referenda, defeated. Quebec continues playing chicken with Canada and Canadians, for the most part, politely tolerate it.) I compare apples with oranges and ignore the matter at hand, Radden Keefe’s amazing book, my digression a testament to how thought-provoking it is. (more…)

REVIEW: Adam Higginbotham’s MIDNIGHT IN CHERNOBYL: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster

Midnight_In_ChernobylIn the summer of 1986, I landed at Athens airport. When I glanced at my wrist watch to make sure I caught my connecting flight, it had stopped. That watch never worked again. A few years later, over lunch with a colleague, reminiscing about spending summers in Europe, we got to chatting about the summer of the Chernobyl disaster. Miles away that very summer of 1986, this woman I wasn’t to meet until years later, landed at Zagreb airport where she noticed, rushing to catch a connecting flight, her watch had stopped, never to tell time again. A peculiar coincidence. To this day, I still think Chernobyl had something to do with it. At the time, in my early twenties, looking forward to a summer of beach-reading and flirtation, had Chernobyl registered? Yes, yes, it had: it was a seminal moment, like reading the first article about AIDS in the Common Room of my liberal arts college (in the NYT Magazine), a moment, like today’s pandemic that will mark and define every young person’s life. Of the two, AIDS changed us, as the pandemic will do. Did Chernobyl? I can’t really say it did. It loomed; a frightening spectre, but it didn’t change me, the way that AIDS article did (what sad losses it brought). Chernobyl and the fear and threat of radiation, so insidious, so invisible, like the fog, coming on “little cat’s feet,” I noted my strange watch-loss and forgot about it in the Aegean’s sparkling surface. Reading Adam Higginbotham’s Midnight In Chernobyl brought it back, not only reminding me of that stopped-wrist-watch, but informing me about a disaster that loitered, continued to wreak death and destruction years after it was out of sight, out of mind for many of us who followed the event in the news at the time. (more…)

First Book of 2020: Michiko Kakutani’s The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump

Death_of_Truth_KukutaniYes, you’re still with Miss Bates, romance-reader … but the first 2020 book I read was one that come-hithered me for weeks and it certainly wasn’t romance. Coupled with a new year’s resolution to broaden my reading horizons, given the coming election year for my southern neighbours and that Kakutani’s analysis clocks at 173 pages, I thought, this I can do. And I did, reading it with enough attention for it to resonate, in a few hours. In retrospect, I appreciated Kakutani’s connections to post-modernism and deconstructionist theory with the Trump phenomenon and our inability to navigate what is good, what is right, and what is true. I don’t think I learned anything new about Trump’s methods, or appeal that able political analysts haven’t already stated, but Kakutani’s positioning the former and latter within an interpretive model that elicits my unease made this a compelling read. (more…)

Time and Taste? 2019 Books

Happy_New_Year_2020Another reading year gone and it was a strange one: an intense reading summer, testament to the plethora of reviews I managed to write, and a dry autumn with barely any reading done. Nevertheless, I read some good romance among others genres and I’m going to herein name the ones I think might withstand the test of time and taste. With this first post of 2020, I wish you all the health, happiness, prosperity, and love the world can bring. Without further ado, here are the titles that resonate with me still. I’ve written about all of them, so you’re welcome to check out my reviews to see why I liked them. With apologies that I can’t manage more commentary than that, but 2019 was the year I was tired. I’m hoping to have more blogging energy for 2020!  (more…)