It’s been a harrowing week, here in the Old Country. But then it’s been a harrowing week for a lot of people all across the globe. It seems almost selfish to feel that something has been genuinely broken by The Horrible Incident on Yom Kippur, when so much is already in pieces anyway.
There’s the shock, there’s the horror, and then there’s history. Which is, in many respects, the horror of horrors. In general, there seems to be a bit of a theme these days. Some might exclaim, “Dude, it’s The Human Condition!” Others will insist this is yet again some Fresh Hell, and quite a few will just shrug, “C’est la guerre.”
Either way, reading is needed, reading is necessary. By sound, coherent reading, knowledge can be acquired and understanding – hopefully – gained. You can argue about what ‘sound, coherent reading’ really is, you can yell about The Canon and it’s Revision – ok. But do actually read. And read well.
Expand your horizons, educate yourself. Not in that boring way everyone hates, but in a dive-into-another-world way. Give yourself the time to hear what others have to say – especially others who are nothing like you – because reading is like listening in on someone else’s way of living and perceiving.
It’s like walking in their (mental) shoes for a bit.
And yes, be careful and conscientious in your reading choices. Some writers are not to be trusted. There, I said it. Some are disingenuous, others demented. Yet others are nefarious little [redacted] who should be [redacted]. Anyway.
If you have any doubts, think about it this way:
Reading is like food: there’s good food, bad food, and junk food. There’s nutritious and healthy but utterly boring food, there’s really unhealthy yummy food, and there’s Michelin-star cooking.
There’s home-made dinners, there’s lunch boxes, there’s a quick fry-up or something you just put together from what was left over in the fridge – it was surprisingly good. There’s fancy dinners in fancy places, there’s your favourite home-cooked meal. And there’s chocolate.
In any case, reading is like food, and there’s such a thing as a healthy – or an unhealthy – reading diet. Everyone has their personal opinion regarding what’s best. Of course, there are experts who will talk about it non-stop. There are the ne’er-do-alls, there are the fanatics. But there’s also your general every-day fair that’s actually ok for everyone.
Take your pick. But please, do eat, as in read.
Stay nourished as best as you can. Mentally and otherwise. It is extremely important for your health.
As for possible reads… here are a few suggestions.
The Magical Real
Over a decade ago, Alexander Chee talked to Ursula K. LeGuin during another “historical moment”. Like swimming in the sea, there are powerful undercurrents in this interview that sweep the conversation along, before the business of reading and being read helps both safely back on shore.
Alexander Chee: Spellbinders
Float like a Butterfly…
Judith Butler put on her writing gloves and very gently knocked out an entire book with simple questions and clear arguments. As gentle a K.O. as there ever was in quite a long time.
Judith Butler: …Sting like a Bee
Look and See
True to Sontag’s famous abrasiveness, access to her words requires that you actually put in a little effort. Either sign up at one of the many sites who have the piece or actually purchase it on- or offline. (Or venture forth into the grey areas of copyright law.) Either way, “Against Interpretation” is one of Sontag’s most famous essays. Concerned with what seeing means – and, of course, art – what Sontag writes about here really is worth thinking about.
Susan Sontag: Perception
No Damsel in Distress
Queen Njinga was a Warrior Queen who fought for her people’s sovereignty without fail. Unsurprisingly, Queen Njinga was monstered by the victors of the terrifying, world-altering Forever War she and her people could never escape. Her people, however, never forgot what really happened, back when the UN, Amnesty International and the ICC weren’t even thought of. Do read this one. It’s definitely one for the books.
Queens of Infamy: All Hail The Queen!
No comment here. If you don’t use app in the link, just type the podcast titles into your app’s search bar, find the podcasts, hit play and start listening. These talks, interviews and conversations are the kind of mental nourishment that will leave you splayed out on your couch, full to bursting, digesting all the brain food you just had.
99% Invisible: Invisible Woman
NPR On Being: Teju Cole
The London Review of Books (LRB): Hilary Mantel, Royal Bodies
The New Yorker Radio Hour: Toni Morrison talks to Hilton Als.