I’ve had a busy month of reading – 30 books – a book a day except for the book I was reading on 31st – I was at the 60% mark but the working year has finally kicked in and I was too busy writing workerly things to be able to finish. It has been an odd two months, as I have had no work yet I have been negotiating new teaching contracts in the in-between times. In the next few weeks, I will be going from relax-á-vous to hectic again. I will cherish the past few months of reading constantly. An opportunity I doubt I will re-experience for a long time. Meanwhile, here are my favourites from January:
Reading Note 52: Jeremiah Moss’s Feral City: On Finding Liberation in Lockdown New York. A memoir and observation of New York City once the privileged and rich fled, leaving behind those who couldn’t and those who didn’t want to leave their home. Moss explores his city in 2020 on his bike, through protests marches, with shared music and community, as the hidden and marginalised emerge from their homes to fill the void left by the “hyper-normals”. He writes about the symbolic violence “that moves through normativity, deployed through sudden movements, a certain walk, a flick of the eyes, a smirk”. He describes the smirk as a splinter biting skin, one of those invisible filament you feel but can’t quite see, a fibre of glass. The smirk is contempt, the hallmark micro-expression of hyper-normativity, it is a doing, and we are the done to”. Though Moss is discussing the contempt of a “normal” passing him by, his words cut deep into my thoughts as they clearly explain my own dislike of the “smirk” which I had not been able to articulate as clearly as Moss does. This was a striking book examining power and queerness and community in the face of pandemics and oppression. It certainly makes you question the “return to normal” push.
Reading Note 53: Mark Mazower’s Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews: 1430-1950. A long history of the multicultural, polylinguistic and polyethnic city and its changes over the centuries to a city that is unrecognisable from even a century earlier. Maxower writes in his introduction that “Change is, of course, the essence of urban life and no successful city remains a museum to its own past”. The homogenisation of this cosmopolitan city is slowly unravelled by a compelling narrative. A week later, I am still smarting and feeling the grief of the Great Catastrophe, with the awful consequences of the population swap of Turkish and Greek people, forced from their ancestral land, It doesn’t escape me that today is the 100 year commemoration of this devastating period in history which continues to have reverberations across the world. Following this was the devastation resulting from the German occupation in World War II and their eradication of the Jewish citizens of Salonica. This was a sombre read, and I will definitely be seeking out more books to read by Mark Mazower.
Reading Note 54: Sabina Hahn’s Pineapple Princess is a funny, glamorous, tasty, bug-filled picture-book with sass and delight. I love this story. Buy it for your kids, your friends’ kids, your libraries and your storytimes.
Reading Note 56: Amanda Montell’s Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism explores the language that is used by cults – from fringe religious sects to yoga and exercise crazes and the cult of retail. Montell focuses upon the power of language used to entice and compel people into cults. Montell also provides the tools of understanding the difference between a fad, a religious groups and the cray-cray. I listened to this on audiobook with my husband and we were constantly stopping it to examine our own response to charismatic people, as well as thinking about the people we know who sadly have been consumed by organisations and movements that mimic cults, causing them harm and by default, causing harm to their loved ones.
Reading Note 57: Lana del Rey’s Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass is a beautifully produced audiobook of del Rey narrating her poetry. Just play it on auto-loop. It is wonderful.