What to Read… fiction & non-fiction
This was the most enjoyable month in terms of the variety of what I’ve been reading.
A good piece of non-fiction or fiction is a recent article in Esquire, My Stalker is well worth reading. It’s way different from what you’d expect. As author Catherine Lacey points out,
“I didn’t like that my stalker stalked me, but I am not so ingrate that I cannot admit that there was something soothing about being stalked by the same stalker for over twenty years.”
Read it here.
If you are wondering about the issue of why we are not getting paint, plates or poinsettias in the stores, you should read Supply Chain Woes here Author Rebecca Gordon has a light touch and a great way with words. She highlights that in September 2021, more than 4.4 million Americans or about 3% of the workforce quit their jobs. The biggest industries affected were hospitality and medicine, workplaces that pose the most danger for exposure to Covid. She also writes about the strikes the US has seen in the last year or too – at places not known for labour militancy. John Deere, Kellogg’s and Nabisco are among them. Gleefully she writes that she as a part-time professor at one campus of the University of California was among the 6500 part-time profs that threatened to strike. Within two days, management gave them a 30% wage hike over the next five years—that’s about 5% a year which is better than the cost of living.
Anne Thériault’s delightful article How Meal Kits Changed My Mind about Cooking
is in The Walrus here. During the pandemic millions of us have turned to “meal kits” which supply all the food and spices – pre-measured and singly packaged — required to prepare exotic dishes at home. Thériault examines at what she, a self-conscious non-cook, knows about cooking and meal kits and reviews them. The pandemic sparked a boom in cooking from scratch. Where do boxes of pre-measured ingredients fit in? She also reviews several interesting cookbooks.
I was the only Arab at my PhD program in Jerusalem is a deep and insightful dive into an Israeli-Arab woman’s journey through her career as an epidemiologist, which at one point took her to the University of Toronto for a few years. I read it here. Or if you don’t have a subscription to Ha’aretz, click here to read it!!
The Jacobin here has a good article called The Forever Prisoner. It’s an interview with Alex Gibney, a well-respected and progressive American who made the film which was recently released on HBO. The Forever Prisoner is about Abu Zubayah – a “high-value detainee”. He has spent the last 20 years (since 9-11) in US “black sites” from Thailand to Guantanamo – never charged with any crime, and never tried. Have a look at my blog here to read more about The Forever Prisoner. Here’s the trailer to Gibney’s new film.
Whose Story (and country) Is This, on the Myth of a Real America by American essayist and author Rebecca Solnit is excellent, hard to believe it was written nearly four years ago! Solnit asks who gets to tell stories about America, and how are those stories told – by book publishers, plastered on front page headlines, or advertised on movie marquees. She writes,
“You already know who. It’s white people in general and white men in particular, and especially white Protestant men, some of whom are apparently dismayed to find out that there is going to be, as your mom might have put it, sharing. The history of this country has been written as their story, and the news sometimes still tells it this way—one of the battles of our time is about who the story is about, who matters and who decides.”
You can read Solnit’s piece here
With the recent conviction of Ghislaine Maxwell for luring and grooming underage girls to sexually service rich and famous men, this article can shed some light – from a European point of view. British author and essayist Lily Dunn has published Idealising the Predator: How did certain French intellectuals get away with preying upon young girls, shamelessly, in public over decades? You can read it in Aeon here.
This just in: days before New Year’s, journalist, writer and Palestinian rights advocate Jonathan Cook wrote a great and timely column — especially since many of you had to watch Christmas movies with your children or grandchildren over the holidays. He dissects a new film, A Boy Called Christmas, in How A Boy Called Christmas converted me to the politics of greed and exploitation in his blog here. It’s witty, and a great read – it also reminds me of the use and misuse of fairy tales, and specifically Christmas stories in the service of Capitalism.
A short story, Lu Re-shaping, by Canadian writer Madeleine Thien in the Dec. 13 New Yorker is worth reading here. The protagonist is Lu, a Chinese immigrant, who for 14 years, has worked in the procurement office of a large Vancouver firm. Somehow she was not promoted—as were others who were less experienced, less numerate and less diligent. The question of why not swirls about – and the answer is a surprise to the reader. A delight!
Now to books!
The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustapha is a very good novel. Published in 2020, it is the story of a middle-aged woman, Afaf Rahman, who is the principal of an all-girls Islamic school on the outskirts of Chicago. Born in the US to exiled Palestinian parents, certain events in Afaf’s early life push her to become an observant Muslim and a teacher. On one level the book is about her terrifying confrontation with a white, male school shooter. On another level the book reveals that her immediate family has already been shattered by their experiences in Palestine, by her parents’ unhappy and impoverished lives in the US, and by her own fight for a measure of independence and stability. To me, the first half of the book is the most fascinating and shows the discrimination and depression suffered especially by desperate emigres from Palestine. I got the book from Halifax Public Library.
Julie Lalonde’s 2020 book Resilience is Futile: The Life and Death of Julie S. Lalonde is brilliant. Lalonde is a 30-something sexual violence educator in Ottawa. She was stalked for a decade by her high-school boyfriend. Lalonde, armed with a degrees in politics and one in women’s studies, was never a shrinking violet; she was ambitious, open-minded and fun. Yet she weaves a spell about why and how she became involved with a teenage lover who pursued her from her hometown in northern Ontario, to university in Ottawa and beyond.
She had a master’s degree in women’s studies, worked at sexual assault centres, and spoke on public platforms and in the media about sexual violence, but it took her years to reconcile what she learned and taught to her experience of being stalked. Not until it was too late. In her book, she points that the end game of stalking is death. Lalonde writes in a breezy and speedy style which grabbed me from the start. She has a great sense of humour. The part about her trying to teach the overwhelmingly male class at Royal Military College (RMC) about sexual violence is painful and yet, oddly funny.
Reminds me of one of my worst experiences: teaching a class on sexual assault and violence against women to a class of male RCMP recruits at The Depot in Regina. Oh, and while at The Depot, I toured its RCMP museum, now called the RCMP Heritage Centre. That’s where I dropped and broke the rusted handcuffs which once bound Louis Riel on his way to the gallows. A Freudian slip, maybe. Ask me about it. Since 2002, the handcuffs have been displayed at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec.
Clockwise: Equity Watch poster for Julie Lalonde; Absurd– RCMP salute to Riel at his grave in 2000 (Credit: Joe Bryksa, CP Photo/Winnipeg Free Press); poster for National Stalking Awareness Week in the UK (Alice Ruggles Trust); handcuffs worn by Riel (Canadian Museum of History); old file photo of Louis Riel (CTV News/Winnipeg)
It took me three months but I finally finished a shocking investigative book on Stephen Lawrence called The Case of Stephen Lawrence by Brian Cathcart. In 1993, 18-year-old Lawrence was killed at a bus stop near his home in a rough neighbourhood in south-east London. Just after 10 pm he was waiting for a bus to go home after being out with a friend. Lawrence was the son of Jamaican immigrants. His best friend, Duwayne Brooks also Black, ran to get help, possibly escaping his own murder as Lawrence was attacked by five white youths. Lawrence had been a promising student, eager to study architecture at university.
The first 200 pages of the book are great because they go into detail of the incredible racism of London’s infamous Metropolitan Police. The author also examines the passivity and resistance among the higher-up cops and their political handlers – all the way to the chief – to investigate and make arrests of the five well-known gang members. The UK had been the scene of many racist attacks and killings and this – in the police view – was just more of the same. The cops didn’t believe it was a hate crime. The book is long (500 pages), but extremely fascinating. Spoiler alert: three of the five men were never convicted. The police and media whitewashed the attackers at two public inquiries. Then the Lawrence family brought a private prosecution. Doreen Lawrence (Stephen’s mother) became a hero and a crusader against the police and against the enduring (and systemic) racism in the UK. Though her marriage and her dreams were shattered, she became an activist and an anti-racist community organizer. Her outrage against the police initially for mishandling the case, then for corruption and what we now know was a cover-up, became mainstream news. In 2013, she was made a life peer and sits on the Labour side in the House of Lords. She is called Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon, of Clarendon in the Commonwealth Realm of Jamaica – a tip of the hat to the town in former colony from which she came. The Baroness sits in the Lords today.
I downloaded the book from Amazon on my iphone.
What to Watch…
Lots to watch and lots of time to watch — especially during the holidays.
I watched a half-hour program, On Contact, on RT, is hosted by writer, theologian and socialist Chris Hedges. He interviewed Nils Melzer. Melzer is the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture who has just written a new book The Trial of on Julian Assange: A Story of Persecution (which will be released in February). It’s a good interview you can watch here: The Persecution of Julian Assange.
I watched The Courier (2021), which is an anti-Russian, pro-American spy-thriller which at first captured my attention, but not for the whole of its two rather predictable hours! Basically, I resented watching it after the first 45 minutes! Still if you like cold war good guys vs bad guys, this film is for you. I should warn you it fails the Bechdel Test.
The lack of active roles for women, let alone women speaking to other women about anything meaningful jarred me. I watched it on Amazon Prime. Here’s the Trailer.
Snabba Cash is a great (if violent) six-part Swedish series on Netflix. Leya, a single mother with a five-year-old son, works in a Stockholm restaurant. But she has developed a software program, TargetCoach, that she is sure will catapult her into success and wealth. She finds an investor but she has to pay off her debts before he will invest. Leya has to approach a relative for money, but he entangles her in his organized crime ring. The issue of race and social class in Sweden form a seminal part of the story. The first three episodes are particularly good. I couldn’t stop watching. Here’s the trailer.
Succession’s theme tune…
If you, like half the world, has been watching Succession on HBO lately, you probably delighted in its music. In 12 minutes, composer and pianist Nicholas Britell shows how he developed Succession’s theme tune and other music for the show. It’s wonderful. Watch here.
Here are several short films – all diabolically clever and worth watching:
Standstill here is a 12 minute film, nicely acted. A lovely goldfish makes a cameo appearance. A young diabetic woman’s blood sugar drops while she is stuck in a traffic jam.
Guide Me Home here is an Omeleto film about David, a young man who wants to “make it” in London. Worth watching.
A university student starts her first day as a volunteer on a helpline in London. The repartee between herself and a distraught caller is thorny and surprising. Call Connect, 16 minutes long, is here.
Camcorders promises little and delivers a lot—here . Three 20-something men face writing a eulogy for a former childhood friend. We see, thru home movies, the incredible times when the four played together as pre-teens. Writing a eulogy is the last thing the men think about.
In Treatment, season 4
The new season 4 of the series In Treatment (Crave) strikes me as way better than the original 3 seasons. It takes place in the spectacular home of a psychologist in the hills of Los Angeles. The psychologist, is played luminously by Uzo Aduba, whose own foibles and fears play havoc with her relationships to patients in her practice. Here is a good review of season 4 . I highly recommend the series The first three seasons are good, but not this good. Here is a trailer.
Lost Daughter on Netflix is quite good. Actor Olivia Colman is everywhere these days—and she performs well as Leda, a 48-year-old literature professor holidaying on the Greek island of Spetses. Her past catches up with her, as she watches the reactions of grownups in a large Greek-American family when a four-year-old daughter loses her precious doll. Leda, who is a bit of a loner, runs afoul of the same nasty and vengeful family who “own” the beach and control goings-on in the village. The film is suspenseful yet believable. It’s about 2 hours long though! Here’s the Trailer.
Podcasts to Listen to…
Latin America’s Schindler: a forgotten hero of the 20th century is an excellent podcast on The Guardian’s Long Read. The man at the centre is Roberto Kozak, an Argentine who worked to help refugees through a charity in Chile around the time of ex-president Allende. After Allende’s murder in 1973, and throughout the nearly twenty year tyranny of Pinochet, Kozak decided he had to save Communist and left wing activists from certain torture and death. This underscores the essence of my earlier blog post here. For example, Kozak was a key player in saving Dr Sheila Cassidy, a British doctor in Chile, from more years of torture and imprisonment by arranging her deportation to the UK. Listen to the podcast here.
A tale of two pandemics; the true cost of Covid in the global south is also a Guardian Long Read here. A Ghanian journalist makes the case for how the pandemic’s effect on Africa is possibly irreversible. He looks at it through a political economy and a social justice lens. Fascinating.
The student and the algorithm: how the exam results fiasco threatened one pupil’s future, is worth listening to because of the class and racial bias alive and well in the English education system. It’s an amazing deep dive; listen to it here in The Guardian Long Read.
Whether you’ve visited Bonavista, Newfoundland or only know about it from the Canadian lyrics to “This Land is Your Land”, you’ll enjoy this podcast How a Small Newfoundland Town is Handling a Huge Population Boom on The Big Story here . Bonavista’s mayor came back to his hometown a decade ago to build the town. Now, it’s facing a population explosion (of sorts), housing prices have gone through the roof as more Covid-weary refugees from Ontario seek shelter and calm. It seems start-ups there are offering jobs.
They Walk Among Us is a British true crime podcast which is a cut above. Episode 28 is amazing. A 68-year-old married middle-class woman immediately admitted to killing her 78- year-old husband of 24 years. Undoubtedly, she was of sound mind. Her defence was that she lived under his coercive control, that she was abused, denigrated and threatened daily. However, the couple’s adult daughter, and neighbours saw him as her victim—rather than the other way round. Worth listening to here.
Canadaland offers an update on some of their best podcast investigations of 2021. Today’s Updates On Pretendians, Porn And Being Priced Out of Life is excellent. Tune in here. About Pretendians, you want to read Mikelle Sasakamoose’s June 2021 article here called Pretendians: Those who wrongly claim Indigenous status. Sasakamoose is a member of UCTE, the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees. It was featured on the union’s website.
The American podcast Reveal is often worth listening to. I recommend two recent podcasts: Handcuffed and Unhoused here, and Fancy Galleries, Fake Art here. The first podcast traces what happened to a homeless man in Portland, Oregon who lived in a park when he was arrested by police for a minor drug charge. The community response was inspiring. Fancy Galleries is an interesting look at fake art – masterpieces produced in a garage in a Queen’s alley in New York City. More than 60 art lovers ended up buying nearly a hundreds million dollars worth of fake paintings from the city’s two most prestigious galleries. The narrator is a Brazilian art lover and journalist who holds a lot of rich people’s feet to the fire!
Happy New Year to all my readers!
Feature image: Art by Brian Britigan for Reveal