Recent Reading: Summer Break!

This is probably three posts’ worth of stuff, but I’m dumping it all at once because I’m about to go on summer vacation hiatus and I’m too lazy to schedule separate posts. I tried to provide good headers so you can scroll to bits that might interest you.

Reading Formats

I said that after finishing David Van Reybrouck’s Congo I was ready for some light and fluffy reading, and I was. But even though holding that big hardcover was a literal pain at times, I found myself wanting to pick up another big paper book. I think there’s something about that physical form that signals my brain immersive reading ahead. My eyes strayed to some of the fat, neglected tomes on my TBR shelves, but I restrained myself for now because I’m about to leave on a trip. I’ll be slipping a Mary Stewart paperback (This Rough Magic) into my carry-on bag along with my loaded e-reader and iPod, but no Big Fat Book for August.

Unless it’s digital. I’m thinking a train to Scotland might be the perfect place to give Dorothy Dunnett’s Game of Kings another go. I have the whole Lymond series as ebooks, bought with a Kobo 90% off coupon (I still don’t know how it miraculously worked on Penguin books), but I wonder if I wouldn’t find it easier to lose myself in those long, complex books on paper.

Given these ponderings, I found Maria Konnikova’s New Yorker piece on “Being a Better Online Reader” fascinating (h/t @anacoqui). It’s a thoughtful, balanced look at recent studies of digital reading: it does seem to get in the way of “deep reading” (links, scrolling, the lack of the physical cues we’re used to, and even multiple columns of text may work against focus), but we can likely teach our brains to adapt.

Maybe the decline of deep reading isn’t due to reading skill atrophy but to the need to develop a very different sort of skill, that of teaching yourself to focus your attention.

It’s something I keep working on, and it’s reassuring to know both that I’m not alone and that there’s hope!

I Read Romance and I Liked It!

Yes, at last my romance mojo seems to be returning (maybe I just need to jump start it regularly with some hefty non-fiction?). Continue reading

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Reading Update: Big Fat Book and More

Big Fat Book: Done!

I finished David Van Reybrouck’s Congo in just under three weeks–nothing like a library deadline for motivation. The second half, covering 1990 on, was much harder to read emotionally. I had not realized the extent to which the Democratic Republic of Congo was and continues to be caught up in the ethnic violence of Rwanda. Outright war, massacre of refugees, ongoing conflict among various militias, endemic rape, forced servitude in mines–these chapters were very bleak.

Van Reybrouck argues convincingly that the history of the Congo is interwoven with world history rather than being an unimportant byway. Why, then, don’t Westerners know more about it? One reason is provided in this timely (for me) piece by Anjam Sundaram, who worked as an AP stringer in the DRC: “We’re Missing the Story: The Media’s Retreat from Foreign Reporting.” (I added his book, Stringer, to my library wishlist). Continue reading

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A Little Beauty in the Middle of Chaos

There’s been a lot of awful news this week. But in the middle of that, beauty and joy persist. Here are a few things that reminded me of that.

Rabih Alameddine’s Tweet Stream

You may remember that I read and loved Alameddine’s novel An Unnecessary Woman. In that novel, Aliyaa lives in a world of books, art and music, and she also lives in Beirut. Violence is part of her world, just as much as beauty. Ultimately, I think the novel shows that art can’t (or shouldn’t) be an escape from life, but it is a part of life, probably even a necessary part. Beauty is not less real than chaos.

I recently (because of his World Cup tweeting and posts) started following Alameddine on Twitter. This week, his tweets, like his novel, have represented both art and political chaos. He has tweeted about Gaza, and he has tweeted a daily poem and images of artworks. I have been so glad to have those drawings, paintings and mosaics show up in my feed alongside photos of air strikes, tanks, and the wreckage of a downed passenger jet. Continue reading

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Marketing, Social Media, Books and Me

A couple of things I’ve been thinking about, at too much length to leave as comments elsewhere.

Stop With “Not Your Mother’s”

Many readers I know object to the currently popular “not your mother’s romance” marketing slogan. Some were introduced to romance-reading by their mothers; some are mothers who like sex and sexy books; all know newer authors did not invent sexy/dark/whatever they think they invented. The other day, right after reading yet another author tout her book as “not your mother’s erotic romance,” I came across this line in Book Riot’s delightfully diverse summer reading suggestions from The Well-Readheads:

[Tiffany Reisz's The Saint] is not your mother’s fuzzy handcuffs “bondage” story

I then had a positive Twitter exchange with Rebecca Schinsky about this: I explained politely why it bothered me; she said she agreed and said she had meant it as an ironic poke at 50 Shades’ “mommy porn” rep. So my point here is not to criticize her. (I think this fails as irony because Reisz’s book is exactly the type that romance marketers label as “not your mama’s,” though Schinsky may not have realized this. As I recall, Harlequin and Reisz herself basically sold her first book as “for readers of 50, only better”).

This conversation made me think more about why I object to the “not your mother’s” phrase: it’s wrong about literature (or story-telling, if you prefer). I want my Oldsmobile to be “not my father’s”; I expect technology to have progressed in 30 years (my father’s still around and bought one of the first hybrids on the market–he’s not driving “your father’s” Oldsmobile either). But while what stories we tell and how we tell them change (some) as culture changes, that’s not progress. The novel may be better suited to depicting a modern society than the epic is (may be), but it is not a superior or more advanced literary form.  Continue reading

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Reading Update: World Cup Edition

Big Fat Book readalong

I’ve read a little more than 4 chapters of David Van Reybrouck’s Congo. Van Reybrouck could be called a Renaissance man: PhD, poet, playwright. I think his poetic side shows in this book, which often features vivid description and odd, telling details. It’s the product of extensive research, including oral histories from Van Reybrouck’s 10 trips to the Democratic Republic of Congo–including interviews with a man named Nkasi, who claimed (accurately, as far as the author could determine) to be born in 1882, and thus was 126 when Van Reybrouck met him. I’d say this book is headed for the short list of truly memorable non-fiction I’ve read or listened to in the past few years (the others are Wade Davis’ Into the Silence and Isobel Wilkerson’s Warmth of Other Sunsthey’re all gripping stories as well as good history).

I’ve watched a lot of World Cup soccer in the last month, and thanks to Twitter I’ve been interested in the ways (post)colonial history is visible in national teams. I follow Duke professor Laurent Dubois (@soccerpolitics), who blogs at Soccer Politics and for The New Republic during the Cup, and who wrote a book, Soccer Empireon French soccer and “the connections between empire and sport.” (And for my romance-reading friends, he’s Katherine Ashe’s husband). He tweeted and RT’d quite a bit about the “Africanness” of many European teams, including Belgium’s.

So with all that in mind, I was especially interested in Van Reybrouck’s discussion of how Belgians imported soccer to the Congo. Here’s a sampling: Continue reading

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