What to Read, What to Watch, and What to Listen to… in mid-July

What to Read…

A wonderful – if painful—short story is Margaret Atwood’s Old Babes in the Woods here. Atwood  was interviewed by the short story editor of the New Yorker about this story here

Babes in the Woods, Disney film of 1932

In this season of cottages, cabins and camps, Atwood’s short story about an older woman and her elderly sister’s visit to the family cottage is bittersweet. The tiny features of the cottage were so real to me, the shoes and boots left for seasons and years gone by in the porch, the steep and slippery steps to the lake and the brittle memories of family life are marvelous.  Worth reading.

Minor Detail by Adania Shibli has been nominated as the 2021 title for Librarians and Archivists with Palestine’s international reading campaign, One Book, Many Communities.   Published in English in 2020, Minor Detail has been longlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize. Her book is selected for our Independent Jewish Voices (IJVCanada) online Book Club in late August.

Shibli has written a two part novel, which is brilliant.  The first half reveals a war crime committed by Israeli soldiers in 1949 – when they forcibly removed Bedouins from the Negev – to “conquer” or Judaise Palestine.  Written in an economic, rapid-fire style of one and two syllable words, the author tells of a troop of 30 Israeli soldiers and a cook who are nudged into murders and something worse by a brutal leader.  The second half of the book takes place 70 years later when a Palestinian woman – never before out of  the West Bank city of Ramallah — decides to poke her head above the “security wall”. She wants to find out what happened place day in 1949.    Unforgettable.

Portrait of Adania Shibli

21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act by Bob Joseph is a must read.  It’s a short, punchy book that explains the facts about the act which has governed Indigenous people in Canada nearly to this day.  The chapter titles tell all:  The Beginning; Resistance is Futile; Tightening Control; “They rose against us” and finally –And Its Days are Numbered.  This entry in the chapter Resistance is Futile, is about a group of Indian farmers (the Act prohibited Indigenous people from farming) in Saskatchewan who pooled their money to purchase farm machinery:

“At Duck Lake in 1891, six or seven Indians together purchased a self-binder …The implement dealer had to acquire the consent of the agent, who was ordered by Inspector McGibbon to object to the sale. No sale or delivery took place.”

p. 38

We often hear that our parents and previous generations knew nothing of what was going on in Indian reserves – we have been told that earlier generations were never told.  But in the chapter Tightening Control, Joseph notes that as far back as 1907, Canada’s “national magazine Saturday Night reported on residential schools, observing that ‘Indian boys and girls are dying like flies… Even war seldom shows as large a percentage of fatalities as does the education system we have imposed on our Indian wards.’”  P.59

“Indian boys and girls are dying like flies… Even war seldom shows as large a percentage of fatalities as does the education system we have imposed on our Indian wards.”

from Saturday Night magazine, 1907.

This was a time before radio, before movies, before television. This was a time when most literate Canadians read magazines for entertainment, and Saturday Night would have been a top seller.  People knew.

A revelatory article appeared in Mondoweiss on July 2.  It’s here.  It’s an interview with Richard Smith, a 60 year old American businessman who visited Israel and Palestine in 2019 on an Eyewitness Palestine tour.  (Map of Israel’s land grab of Palestine below, and photo of Smith at the Damascus Gate, Jerusalem)

Smith was curious about Israel and Palestine, but not committed politically.  In fact, Smith is a Republican and not Jewish.  I gather his wife is. On returning home, Smith said about his visit, “If I was Palestinian, I’d have been shot once or twice by now.” When he was in an illegal Jewish settlement on the edge of Jerusalem, he noted,

“We’re in our group and trying to find one of the leaders of our group, at his grandparents’ house. And we stopped and we’re having a little discussion– and someone starts throwing pieces of ice at me. I thought it was a kid. And I didn’t think anything of it, and another piece came. And then I could see in the corner of my eye, I looked up at the apartment behind us– a grown man was throwing ice cubes at me. And it was a settler. I looked at him. We made eye contact and then we had a little exchange.

Then he turned directly to me and he screamed, “Mohamed’s a dog.” I said, “Really?” “Yes!”

And Mohammed the dog– that was the person talking to us. He was this man’s enemy. So the settler was conveying an important message from his standpoint. He said, ‘Get out of here. Move on.'”

Smith thought he would encounter angry Palestinians. But he found the Jews to be furious, full of hatred toward Palestinians, and bent on their destruction.

What to Watch…

Still image from Feel Good, Mae Martiin is on the right (not really)

Without a doubt, the most fascinating and delightful series on Netflix is Feel Good.  You have to watch.  The series is about Mae Martin – who plays herself.  She is a young Canadian comedienne who lives in London, UK to have a life apart from her overbearing parents, and to get away from feeling like a loser.  She’s non-binary and she is amazing and very funny.   The series is an emotional rollercoaster for the viewer.  Mae Martin plays herself; her girlfriend calls her Corn.  Martin has great short white-blonde hair, a thin agile body and always wears black.  You will find out why. Here’s the trailer

This series is not like anything British or American.  It plumbs the depths of the spirit, and finds disquiet and anxiety in many under explored places. The dialogue is short and to the point. Martin works as a stand-up comedienne at a London bar.  Her partner is a very English school teacher who used to be straight. The jokes are clever and sometimes hair-raising.  I can’t say enough good about Feel Good.

Parasite, an electrifying film

I also watched Parasite.  You can see it on Kanopy, free with your card from Halifax Public Libraries.  This is a feature film which won Oscar Best Picture in 2020, but don’t let that stand in your way of seeing it.  This South Korean beauty is about social class, wealth, poverty, neoliberalism —and outrage.  Though the film exposes violence, I didn’t think it was gratuitous – rather, it was oddly satisfactory.  Perhaps revenge can be sweet. A listen to this interview with Max Haiven about his recent book Revenge Capitalism is useful. Back to Parasite, a very poor couple with their two grown children live in a squalid basement apartment in a seedy area of Seoul.  They make themselves indispensable to the lives of a rich dot com executive and his famly.  How that happens is amazing and humorous.  It’s also very touching.  There are many reviews of this award-winner, but I have to say it is an amazing critique of capitalism, and the “race to the bottom” that some in the working class are trying to fight against. Here is the trailer.

Scene from Parasite

Line of Duty’s final season is available on Britbox.  It will cost you $4.99 a month for 3 months but depending on how addicted you are to intelligent police procedurals, it’s worth it. I think there have been 5 or 6 seasons of this gritty policier filmed in Northern Ireland, and the West Midlands.  I didn’t think this final season was as good as the first and second seasons you can watch on Netflix.  At the heart of the series are a couple of detectives whose job it is to root out “bent cops”.    In this latest series—the corruption goes far up the chain of command.  No surprise from me. A local black journalist, a woman,  is murdered for trying to get to the truth.  The detectives who investigate that murder discover a torrent of truths about fellow cops – though few are ever brought to justice.  

While you are watching Britbox, you might tune into a wonderful and funny series of only 3 episodes called Ambassadors.  It is not-so-loosely fashioned on Murder in Samarkand – A British Ambassador’s Controversial Defiance of Tyranny in the War on Terror (2006)

Craig Murray’s tell-all about his life as British ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2004– when he was fired.  Murray’s book is a great, and well worth reading.  Here’s a quick review of it

Murray’s book exposed a myriad of transgressions by the Americans and the Brits in the “war on terror” in the wake of 9-11.  Living in Tashkent, he revealed President Karimov, the country’s dictator for life, boiled some of his regime’s opponents alive in water.   A small problem, it was ignored by the US Britain (and Canada!) in their desire to rid the world of “terrorists.” As late as 2011, President for Life Karimov started freezing prisoners to death, to more muted condemnation.   No matter, Karimov died in 2016 after a 26 year reign of terror.

Islam Karimov, former President of Uzbekistan died at age 78 in 2016.

A nice twist on a loving relationship is the short American film Happy Birthday.  It’s only 7 minutes long and it’s here.

What to Listen To…

Oh so much to tell you about!

The new episode of Canadaland Commons: Real Estate  zeroes in on Canada’s Biggest Slumlord here The Toronto Community Housing Corporation – sounds like a nice, civic-minded organisation.  But is not.  It is the second biggest landlord in North America, with tens of thousands of units – suites ridden with mice, cockroaches, broken down appliances and busted pipes. Not to speak of the violence affecting lives in the communities. Journalist Arshy Mann looks at the scandals behind the TCH, and in a very good interview with Toronto’s former mayor John Sewell, a leftist, we see how tightly controlled the organization is and how they treat anyone who wants residents to live in dignity rather than squalor.

Below: images for Toronto Community Housing– just last year TCH got 51 more cops on their payroll

I also listened to Wrongful Conviction: Junk Science with Jason Flom.  This US-based podcast questions prosecutors’ cases against the wrongfully convicted by challenging and questionable evidence such as bloodstain spatter, shaken baby syndrome, gunfire residue and more. Fascinating.

Lately I’ve been listening to Selected Shorts, short stories read aloud before a live audience at Symphony Space in New York City. You can listen to these two short stories– the “Dynamic Duos”here are especially entertaining.  I prefer the first one, The Trip. Excellent. 

This episode of the History Extra Podcast from the BBC is about William Hogarth, the brilliant 18th century British cartoonist, artist and cynic. It’s a great podcast about Hogarth’s life and his times. Listen here.

By William Hogarth: Industry and Idleness, II: The Idle ‘Prentice Executed at Tyburn (1747). Credit Andrew Edmunds, Londo

Featured image: The Humours of an Election, 4: Chairing the Member, 1754-55 by William Hogarth (UK). This is the fourth part of a series on corruption and graft during an election. The winning MP in Oxfordshire was a Tory. Photo credit: The Trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.

From Wikipedia: One of the victorious Tory candidates is being carried through the streets on a chair in a traditional ceremony. He is about to tumble down because one of his carriers has just been accidentally hit on the head by a flail carried by a Tory-supporting rural labourer who is attempting to fight off a Whig supporter (an old sailor with a bear). The Whig supporters can be seen wearing orange cockades.

A group of frightened pigs run across the scene in a reference to the story of the Gadarene swine. The Whig leaders watch from a nearby house. At the right two young chimney sweeps urinate on the bear. A black Briton, somewhat aghast, holds her passed-out mistress who is being given smelling salts by another attendant.

One comment

  1. Hi Judy, I’ve been distracted recently by major home renos – among them local Mennonites put a beautiful blue/grey steel roof atop my house and ramshackle garage. Other stuff going on as well, and finally got the booster Pfizer shot Saturday. So that’s my excuse for falling way, way behind in my reading and posting. Tonight I finally started catching up on emails, and belatedly read your blog post with the review of “21 things you didn’t know about the indian Act”. Brilliant, but so sad. I’ve taken the liberty of cross posting on riffs & ripps:


    As always, hope this is OK?

    best to you and Larry. I can see you’re both still very much fighting the good fights(s)!

    – Chris


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