What to Read, What to Watch, What to Listen to… end of summer

What to Read…

My Apology, a short story in the New Yorker from July 5, is a good read. And it’s great to have it read aloud to you by the author himself, here.

The Netanyahus, by Joshua Cohen, is the funniest and one of the best books I’ve read in years. The novel, which is based on a true story (see the book’s afterword), focuses on Ben-Zion Netanyahu https://israeled.org/netanyahus-father-dies/ (Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s father) who came to the US to take up a job as a historian at a small upstate New York college in the winter of 1959 or 1960. Ben-Zion brings his family including his cruel and rather crude wife and his three boisterous and slovenly sons. Included is the middle son Benjamin who, at age 10, is pretty wild. The book combines a clever “campus confidential” style plot with the political machinations of the dean, the history department faculty and the one professor who happens to be Jewish. Of course he is charged with taking care of Ben-Zion, the new staff member, and his family. Ben-Zion, is a “Revisionist Zionist” which is a more radical form of Jewish nationalism. An ardent right-wing Zionist, Ben-Zion idolizes his dead mentor Ze’ev Jabotinsky who some regard as a militant proto-fascist. This book is a riot – and it’s final scene is, in fact, a near-riot in the falling snow and ice of a liberal American college town.

I just read Shake Down at Sing Sing in the latest issue of Esquire magazine. John J Lennon, aged 44, has been incarcerated for the last 20 years and spent the last few in the notorious Sing Sing prison north of New York City. He continues to serve a sentence of 28 years to life for murder. In the last 15 years, Lennon has become a social justice commentator, a sports writer and a freelance journalist of note. Lennon believes that effective gun control laws, would have made it harder for him to have killed another human being. Lennon’s articles have appeared in The Guardian, Medium, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Vice and Politico – to name a handful.

He writes on a Swintec typewriter which costs from $3,000-$5,000—more than typical PCs (personal computers). Because most US prisons do not allow inmates to use computers, the Swintec is acceptable mainly because all parts are made of clear plastic. There is virtually no way to use the parts to fashion weapons. Ribbons for the Swintec cost $8 each; correction tape costs $14 for a six-pack. By the way, Lennon writes in a cell with no chair; he uses an overturned bucket to sit on, or the edge of his bed. Lately, for reasons you will read in Shake Down, Lennon and his Swintec have been moved to yet another prison.

Swintec typewriter, like the one JL Lennon used at Sing Sing

A Wholesome Horror: Poorhouses in Nova Scotia by Brenda Thompson is a book about poorhouses and work farms in Nova Scotia. Since the earliest days, just as poor houses and almshouses existed in England, they also endured here. Thompson traces the scores of poor houses from one end of the province to the other; she looks at their rules, their cruel overseers, their inmates. A single mother trying to complete her university degree, she used to drive past an old, dilapidated building in the Annapolis Valley that was once a poor house. It got her fuming about her penurious situation and those of other women (especially) those who lived less than 100 years before.

This is a fascinating book, and a good read. There are photos, including ones by Thompson, some from the NS Archives and many older photos from records saved by medical historian Dr Allen Marble. The photographs are poignant on the one hand and revealing and upsetting on the other. I highly recommend this book. If you are not angry about today’s homeless situation, precarious housing for many and Halifax councillors’ refusal to condemn police brutality of 10 days ago – this book is for you!

About a month ago, The Globe and Mail published a lively and somewhat sobering article about the corporate machinations involving NSCAD (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) and its board. Emails Shed New Light on NS Art College Development Battle explains how and why dominant members of the NSCAD board of governors fired Aoife Mac Namara, who was appointed NSCAD president in 2019. Mac Namara opposed the board’s push to sell the campus’s valuable real estate to the Armour group, led by developer Scott McCrea. The NSCAD board justified it by saying a new campus would be built and leased back to NSCAD. The Armour Group is a major real estate development company in Halifax. Today, two weeks after the Tories swept to power in NS, we know that the leading member of premier Tim Houston’s transition team is none other than Scott McCrea, Armour group’s president. This Globe article tells us where half the bodies are buried. We are still waiting for the full accounting.

Below: “Fire the NSCAD board” credit Halifaxexaminer.ca; photo of ousted president Mac Namara credit news.artnet.com

As a matter of interest, 11 out of 18 positions (61%) on NSCAD’s current board of governors
are represented by men (and a few women) from real estate, building contractors, corporate and financial empires. Here is a partial list of the provenance of board members.
Crombie REIT
Grant Thornton LLP
Stewart McKelvey
Oceanstone Seaside Resort, Indian Harbour NS
Bank of Montreal Financial Group (2 members)
Duron Atlantic Ltd
Ciena Canada
Viewpoint Realty Services
Sonco Gaming, whose board appointee is listed as having “significant experience in real estate”.

If you missed it, Dr Aoife Mac Namara was fired as NSCAD’s president, though she remains a faculty member at the art school.

In a very nicely-written article published in The Conversation, University of Ottawa doctoral candidate, Agata Soroka, takes aim at the Right’s demand for high schools to teach students “financial literacy.”
Her research

“on high school curriculum documents in Canada and the United States shows that financial literacy education frames financial outcomes in individualistic ways that are rooted in the ideology of merit. Mainstream financial literacy pays little attention to the broader economic and socio-political contexts in which taking control of finances is progressively more difficult for hard-pressed families as the gap between the rich and everyone else continues to widen.”

Agata Soroka

Soroka maintains that years of austerity (little to no new spending on the public good), poor decisions by those in power, low wages of essential workers (despite record corporate profits: look at the banks, look at the major grocery chains) demonstrate that better budgeting and saving for a home will not fix inequality. The rich and privileged still have tax loopholes, use off-shore tax havens, don’t pay their fair share of taxes, continue to polarize incomes, reject paid sick days and decent pensions for the rest of us.

Well worth reading!

Finally, a short but good article by University of Montreal historian and writer Yacov Rabkin is called Roots of Afghan Tragedy. Rabkin shows that history did not start when the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. He shows how “forever wars” profit no one but arms manufacturers Rabkin’s article is augmented by The Conversation’s recent podcast Origins of the Taliban and what their history tells us about takeover of Afghanistan here. Fascinating.

What to Watch…

If you like Italian films, especially those shot around Naples, you might like Martin Eden. This 2019 film is adapted from Jack London’s 1909 book by the same name. The problem is that after the success of London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang, this book is a definite departure. Martin Eden — the novel — focuses on a sailor in the US Pacific northwest. The sailor – now transposed to a seafarer in an Italian port — is a working class man with no education past primary school. To add to the confusion, the Italian film takes place in Italy of the 1960s or ‘70s. Martin Eden is introduced to a wealthy family, the Orsinis, when he rescues their son from a beating on the waterfront. Eden falls in love with the Orsinis’ beautiful erudite daughter, Elena. He vows to improve himself, become cultured, educated and earn a decent living before returning to marry her. He becomes a poet and a journalist of some renown and grows wealthy. The film — like many Italian films– doesn’t know when to quit. It runs more than two hours! Though political and class debate is on the fringe of the film, according to reviews,
the novel is centred on the sailor’s individualism versus socialist principles and class warfare that London espouses. That does not come through effectively in the film. Watch it to practise your Italian, to see some lovely vistas, or to see lead actor Luca Marinelli chew up the scenery. I swear he’s in every single scene. It’s on Kanopy—which you can access free from home with your public library card.

For a first rate English thriller, watch Keeping Rosy on Amazon Prime. Charlotte, a successful business executive with a well-ordered and rather serene life discovers she was not selected for a promotion at work. Instead a younger man got the job. In a fury, she leaves work only to arrive home to find her cleaning woman having a forbidden cigarette while vacuuming the living room. Incandescent with rage, Charlotte threatens to fire the cleaner then takes a step she can’t walk back. So begins a psychological thriller that is well acted, and emotionally charged. You won’t regret watching it—you can watch it for free during a seven day trial when sign up with Sundance Now. After seven days you can cancel. Here’s the trailer though I don’t think it does the film justice.

Recently I watched an Argentine film, Wild Tales (2014), for a second time. I never do that! But it’s brilliant and darkly funny. It is composed of six stand-alone 15 minute vignettes. My husband likes the Jewish wedding scene, Hasta que la muerte nos separe – Till Death Do Us Part– the best. I like La Propuesta (the proposal) the best. You can watch it on Kanopy. A true delight. Here is the trailer.

There is a Korean series called Law School on Netflix which I liked. Though it’s rather stilted and stylized, it is about law school students in Seoul who all but witness the murder of their professor. There are privileged and poor students, corrupt police, and edgy faculty in the episodes. There’s a wonderful moot court scene too. See what you think– here’s the trailer .

Law School, On Netflix. A delight.

Trunk Space is a 13 minute film from Omeleto. I often watch several of their treasure trove of international short films – all less than 15 minutes in length. In this film two pretty young women are driving across the desert in the US southwest and pick up a hitch-hiker. American filmmakers tend to “tell” rather than “show” but this one is a surprise. Here it is.

Below, left: Still from Trunk Space (credit hauntedmtl.com); Right: still from Horchata (credit: denverpost.com)

Horchata is another 13 minute film from Omeleto. A bicycle courier works as a food delivery guy during Covid. He tries to stay ahead of the orders, be patient with restaurant staff, and courteous to clients. Worth watching because five years ago – this delivery man’s way of earning a skimpy living was not a “thing”. Watch it here.

On Kanopy I watched the 2010 film, The Good Heart. A crusty and misogynist bar owner in New York City offers a homeless youth a chance to run – and co-own – his bar. The rules are simple – Do what the senior man says, don’t ask questions, and change nothing. The interplay between the two men is somewhat interesting, especially when the younger man brings his girlfriend into the picture. Here’s the trailer. Not bad at all.

Somehow I didn’t watch the CBC legal drama series Diggstown first time around. I have watched the two seasons now on CBC-GEM. Diggstown offers great shots of Halifax and Dartmouth. And every day reveals a Wedgewood blue sky, great flower beds and verdant foliage. Each episode takes place in high summer. Each one has a major theme and a side-theme. The side theme has a social justice bent. Key actors are black and some of the dialogue is fast and spirited. You can read more about Diggstown here: Season 3 is out in October.

Lead actor: Canadian Vinessa Antoine (as lawyer Marcie Diggs) on Diggstown

The Pursuit of Love is a three-part British series on Amazon Prime. Based on a book of the same name by novelist Nancy Mitford, it follows two cousins from a wealthy, if remote, estate in the north of England. Born just before WWI, the women’s deep friendship and experiences peak at the start of WWII. One cousin, Linda, searches for love, and for life’s meaning in the adventures of love while Fanny decides to get an education and explore the world in a careful, more conventional way. The series is well-acted, and –as most British costume dramas – nicely done with the right amount of pathos, vitriol and tragedy. Here’s the trailer.

What to Listen to…

I can’t say enough good about White Saviors, the new series on the Canadaland podcast. Jesse Brown first dipped into the problems around the WE Charity last year. Not only did PM Justin Trudeau’s mother earn $250,000 and brother Alexandre make $32,000 from emceeing WE Charity events,
but WE Charity also had very dubious fundraising techniques, and questionable relationships with major corporations. For instance, WE Charity partnered with Hersheys in an effort to white-wash their use of child labour. The WE Charity scandal erupted in Canada in the summer of 2020 when the Trudeau government agreed to pay $900 million contract to WE charity for organizing student summer grants program. That was rescinded. But then there was Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s abrupt resignation from the top cabinet post in Trudeau’s government. Morneau, who is himself a multi-millionaire, took free trips to Africa with his wife and daughters courtesy of the WE charity

The series is jaw-dropping. WE Charity was paid to white-wash corporations including Allstate Insurance, Teck Mining, Dow Chemical and Unilever. We heard a bit of the scandal last summer, but this well-crafted series gives more detail and background. The narrator is a welcome new voice to Canadaland: Olusola Adeogun, a Nigerian-Canadian writer/producer.
.
Listen to White Saviors here. And donate to subscribe to all Canadaland’s excellent podcasts. You can listen for free but if you pay $7 or $10 each month, the show can go on.

The Guardian Long Read features a great podcast Inside the Mind of a Murderer: the Power and Limits of Forensic Psychiatry. A British psychiatrist tried to get a murderer to talk about his terrible crime.

Maclean’s political writer Stephen Maher is the guest on The Big Story podcast. He talks about Erin O’Toole’s message and the see-saw between him and Trudeau in the lead up to the federal election. This is a very scary scenario as the podcast tries to answer what it will take for O’Toole to be Canada’s next prime minister. Listen to it here.

I stumbled on a rather long podcast series called Untold: The Daniel Morgan Murder. In 1987, Morgan, a 37-year-old private investigator, was murdered in the parking lot of a pub in a rough area of southeast London, UK. His older brother Alastair and a London writer Peter Jukes teamed up to investigate and found that the murder was linked to “bent” cops in the London Metropolitan Police who were part of an organized crime syndicate. Though several cops were charged with Morgan’s murder, after mere days charges against them were dropped. For decades, the authorities refused to look into the murder and find out who was responsible. The gaslighting, and false leads deliberately set by the higher ups in London’s police became an ongoing joke, of sorts. Now, 34 years later, certain facts are coming to light. The series is fascinating. For example the right wing British tabloid News of the World tried to derail the fifth murder investigation because of links to a likely conspiracy to murder Morgan. Just before his murder, Morgan said he was going to the media to report on London police corruption. Tim Bousquet’s excellent work on police culpability in the wrongful conviction and incarceration of Glen Assoun for a murder he did not commit, has jarring similarities to this frightening and terrible tale. You can listen to the Untold series here.

Photos below: The Golden Lion pub in SE London. Morgan was found in his car with an axe in his head, in the carpark. A photo of the victim, Daniel Morgan. Photo of his mother, Isobel Hulsmann and brother Alastair Morgan. Alastair returned to college in his 40s to take a degree in journalism so he could better research and expose the murder of his brother. Photo below, left by Britt-Marie Petterson: Daniel Morgan (left), his wife Iris, Justin McCarthy, Jane Morgan (sister), and Alastair Morgan.

Finally, you can listen to three clever short stories about work called “Punching-In” on Selected Shorts here. Some of New York’s best actors read short fiction before a live studio audience. You can sign up and listen to new readings each Friday.

Featured Image: Me, Myself and I by Joanne Barker (Canadian). Credit: Womensartassociationofcanada.ca. To read more click here: https://womensartofcanada.ca/artist-portfolios/barker-joanne/

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