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:

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.

Other Reading/Listening

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 got Patricia Veryan’s Time’s Fool from Open Library. She’s another out-of-print romance author I’ve heard a lot of good things about. I’m only a little way in, but it’s good so far.

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.


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11 Responses to Reading Update: World Cup Edition

  1. KeiraSoleore says:

    Hats off to you for your giving your post on reading a football spin. Enjoyed reading it.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Thanks! It was one of those serendipitous moments when all my entertainment unexpectedly connected. I was reading along last night, and oh hey! Soccer!

  2. Barb in Maryland says:

    Oh, ‘The Martian’ is sooo much fun! I loved it and convinced my non-sf-reading husband to read it and he thoroughly enjoyed it. Duct tape rules!
    I am (mumble, mumble) years older than you–so my map knowledge of Africa is totally shattered!
    The Belgian Congo became the Congo which became Zaire and is now back to Republic of Congo (I think). I am so confused!

    I gobbled up all of Patricia Veryan’s books in the day and I do not(!!) understand why her books have disappeared from libraries and why her publisher did not keep her books in print(rant over). My favorites are the books in the Sanguinet’s Crown series. Happy sighs when I think of those books.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I am sure complexities of contracts are an issue for older books, but I feel like ebooks of genre backlist is a license to print money–not tons of money, maybe, but money. I hope more and more authors and publishers catch on to that and bring them back as ebooks. When you’re a “new” reader like me and you hear about all these great classics you can’t get your hands on, it’s so frustrating! Especially as, outside the US, used books are more expensive/harder to acquire. (Sure, the book is $1, but shipping is $10!)

      It’s the Democratic Republic of Congo and its neighbor is Congo-Brazzaville. It’s quite confusing.

      I was thinking about how “beach read” is a label much more often applied to “women’s” genres (although I guess thrillers sometimes get described that way?). I think THE MARTIAN is a perfect beach read–it’s fast-moving and engrossing and a total blast. There’s not much to it but plot and an enjoyable voice, but sometimes that’s all you need! My son enjoys The Red Green Show so I think he’s all primed for a book in which duct tape rules.

  3. kaetrin says:

    Glad you are enjoying The Martian LIz 🙂 I thought it was a ripper- it did what it did *so* well and the action is pretty much non-stop from start to finish. I loved the way the tension was maintained and the fixes seemed realistic. Mark’s humour made the story for me and the narrator just nailed the portrayal IMO.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Yes, exactly–it’s a classic “ripping good yarn.” I think Weir alternate tense bits and everything’s OK bits really well so it’s not torturous to read. Although right now I have 2 hours left and I’m just like “I can’t stand for anything else to go wrong!” (but of course it just did). I took a little break. It’s a super fun story and he does make all the science seem plausible.

  4. Sunita says:

    I haven’t read Dubois’ book yet, for which I really have no excuse, especially because I do love the intersection of sport and social science (sociology of sport, politics of sport, etc.). One of my favorite books on sport and colonialism is Ramachandra Guha’s A Corner of a Foreign Field, which is about cricket in India. The first time I picked it up I had to stop reading because it made me miss my father and uncle so much. Guha is another Renaissance man; he’s written on ecological politics, he has a very thick but readable history of Modern India, and he writes magazine and newspaper articles and essays.

    I picked up one Veryan book and never finished it, but I know I have to try her again.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I haven’t read his book either, but his tweet stream really enriched my World Cup viewing so I’m going to try to get to it. Guha’s book sounds fascinating–maybe I could finally understand cricket!

  5. willaful says:

    Have you read the Fifth Avenue book yet? I didn’t make it through either the first or the second…

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I didn’t even try. All my reading time is going to the Congo book, so I returned everything else to the library (but will try again later).

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