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 Suns–they’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 Empire, on 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:
A much larger group was reached through what was probably the most successful part of Belgian missionary work: soccer. Here too, Léopoldville and Elisabethville took the lead, starting around 1920. Missionaries in their cassocks explained the rules of the game, and in no time saw children and young people practicing with homemade balls and grapefruits. . . . There with teams with shoes and barefoot teams–playing in bare feet entailed milder passes, but greater agility. . . . Just as soccer was propagated at the Flemish academies and boarding schools as a pressure valve for the excess sexual energy of boys, in the colony it was introduced to quell possible social unrest. In addition to an exuberant game, soccer was also a form of discipline. . . . Festive, yet restrained: an ideal colonial training ground.
At this World Cup the Belgian squad featured players like Vincent Kompany and Romelu Lukaku, sons of Congolese immigrants. That hardly erases or makes up for the dark history of Belgium’s colonial adventures in the Congo, but it seems like a hopeful sign. This Moment of Sap brought to you by over-emotional sports watching.
My Life in Maps
I spent my elementary years at a Montessori school, and we had puzzle maps for every continent and the US. That was how I learned some basic geography: putting those maps together, tracing the pieces and cutting out construction-paper to construct my own map, labeling the countries/states and their capitals. That was back in the early 70s, and I know maps have changed since then. Still, I flipped open Van Reybrouck’s book, looked at the first map, and said “I thought Kinshasa was in Zaïre.” (Remember, ignorance is why I’m reading the book). Googling “map of Africa in 1975″ told me that back when I made my map, it was–or I could have read the first 10 pages of the book and discovered that after Mobutu’s 1965 coup, “the country got a new name.” I think the fun I had with those puzzles helps explain my abiding love for books with maps.
Lots of listening these days–the #BFB takes up a lot of reading time. I borrowed P. G. Wodehouse’s Pigs Have Wings from the library (part of his Blandings series). I can’t take too much of this kind of farce at once but it’s perfect summer fluff.
Thanks to many glowing Twitter comments, I’m currently listening to Andy Weir’s The Martian, about an astronaut stranded on Mars. This is perfect summer listening–a rip-roaring plot and a strong narrator. Everything that’s mentioned is a Chekhov’s gun; you just know it’s going to blow up in Mark’s face soon. I think I’m going to get my son a copy for our summer travels.
I finally got back to the second part of Ginn Hale’s Rifter serial and I’m finding that gripping too.
I had some literary fiction from the library but returned it unread/unheard. These are books I might try again later, but I needed something lighter, or maybe just more plot-based (or more hopeful?) to balance Congo. I am not up for the travails of privileged WASPs right now.
I really enjoyed Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, especially the stuff on writing and “The Mercies,” about her adult friendship with Sister Nina, a nun who taught her in elementary school. Partly because of that, I downloaded Jenny Davidson’s Reading Style: A Life in Sentences from the library. Though I am trained in close reading (and pride myself on being good at it) and work with students on their sentence-level writing, I feel I’m really bad at talking about style when I’m blogging, so I’m curious to see how Davidson does it.
Plus, I noticed that my library has Harlequin’s Fifth Avenue series, and I was curious about this experiment in trade paperback but put off by the price. Win! Have downloaded Maisey Yates’ Avenge Me.