Ah, September

A month ago I finished Reservoir 13Reading (most of) the Man Booker longlist had really restored my reading mojo. I was reading a lot, I was able to immerse myself in reading again, nothing would stop me now! Yeah. Since then I have read a book and three quarters. Short ones.

When I wrote that Reservoir 13 post, the first week of term had just ended. Since then, the reality of work during the semester has set in. I’m often too tired to concentrate after dinner, my main reading time. I’ve listened to a lot of mystery audio in lieu of reading. But now I’m settling into the semester routine, my reading pace is picking up again. I thought some long-weekend blogging might help keep the momentum going.

The Book: Colonized Classrooms: Racism, Trauma and Resistance in Post-Secondary Education, by Sheila Cote-Meek

I read this as/for work after I saw it recommended by Melonie Fullick (@qui_oui) on Twitter. Cote-Meek’s focus is on Aboriginal Canadian professors and students confronting narratives of Canadian colonial violence in the classroom, but the book would be useful for anyone teaching about potentially traumatic subjects–slavery, for instance–or people concerned about increasing access and making post-secondary classrooms safer places for marginalized people. Colonized Classrooms gives a broad overview of theory and social science on colonial violence and trauma. I photocopied the references list as a rich mine of further reading.

Cote-Meek also interviewed professors, students and elders, and her reports of these interviews were for me the most useful part of the book, particularly the accounts of casual racism students experienced in the classroom and their frustration with (white) professors who did not recognize or stop it when it happened. It made me think about how much more I have to learn about making my own classrooms a safer space to everyone, and it’s very relevant to ongoing controversies about trigger warnings and safe spaces in academia. Cote-Meek’s work makes so obvious that adult students can be survivors of trauma, can be living with on-going trauma, and that classrooms in what are, after all, colonial education institutions can help perpetuate that trauma. I got Colonized Classrooms from my public library and recommended it to my college library for purchase as soon as I finished. I know a lot of people who would want to read it–and some who need to.

The Three-Quarters Book: The Farm in the Green Mountains, by Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer

Am I dooming myself by blogging about this before I’ve actually finished? I’m reading this one because of Dorian Stuber’s review in Open Letters Monthly and just go read that. The author and her playwright husband, exiles if not quite refugees from Germany in WWII, took up farming in Vermont. It was incredibly hard, though the author mostly makes light of it, with funny stories of their eccentric animals. As both Dorian’s review and the introduction by Elisa Albert point out, the book seems oddly relevant at times. The paean to the USDA, for instance, is a reminder that government can sometimes help–and even conduct scientific research and share the findings with the public! Although I’m tired of this meme, I couldn’t help thinking that “Nevertheless, she persisted” more or less sums up Alice’s attitude to the endless work of the farm:

The piles of dishes lie like coral reefs where you could be shipwrecked. The mending basket grows like dough that has too much yeast in it. The stalls, the sheds, the workshop, the repairs–you will never find time to take care of them all!

So she moans in a rare moment of weakness in the chapter on “Drude,” that tricksy spirit that Americans refer to as “the blues.” Drude dwells “is anxious about minor misfortunes, worries about petty difficulties, is burdened by small annoyances.” Alice mostly keeps her at bay with laughter, but sometimes with the reminder of the more serious pain and grief others are experiencing (and which she herself has survived). Oh, Drude, I know you well, and reading this book has helped combat you.

Aside from the Drude chapter, I think my favorite was the one on the party telephone line, something I remember from my early childhood when we still had one at our summer cabin in rural Wisconsin. I can still hear my grandmother’s voice as she picked up the phone and gave the operator our number to make a call. There’s a lot to delight in The Farm in the Green Mountains, and its short chapters are perfect for the weary bedtime reader.

The Audiobooks:

I’ve been listening to a couple of series I’ve enjoyed reading in the past. I started with Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano’s First Case, a collection of stories spanning the detective’s career that I hadn’t read before, then went back to start the series from the beginning. I’m currently listening to #3, The Snack Thief. Montalbano can be kind of a macho jerk at times but he’s also well read, rhapsodizes about food, and cares about justice. This 10-year-old piece by Paul Bailey is a great appreciation of a series he didn’t seem to expect would still be going strong today (Camilleri is 92).

I also discovered that my library has acquired audiobooks of most of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series. So far I’ve listened to Cop Killer, Man on the Balcony, and The Laughing Policeman (all out of order depending on what’s available for download when I want a new one–I’ve read them all before). I can’t even remember how I discovered this series; maybe through my husband, or maybe at my favorite bookstore. Rohan has a couple of good posts on her introduction to and increasing appreciation for this series.

Sometimes I doze off while listening and sometimes the books blur together in my head (was it in Stockholm or Sicily that the grocery was robbed?) but it doesn’t really affect my enjoyment of revisiting these characters and settings when I’m not up to meeting someone new.

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11 Responses to Ah, September

  1. Sunita says:

    I really need to pick up the Cote-Meek book. Even if it focuses on Canadian issues, it sounds as if it has some great insights that can be used across contexts. Usually I don’t have too much trouble with making class discussions inclusive as long as I pay attention to the topics and the mix of students, but the last year and a half has been trying. I can use all the help I can get.

    I have the first three Montalbanos and a handful of the Martin Becks. I really need to stick them into the rotation.

    You’ll get your mojo back! Our slumps come at many different times and for different reasons. If only they were more predictable, then they’d be more easily solvable.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Sadly there is nothing exactly surprising in the Cote-Meek book for anyone who has paid much attention. But I know it’s an area where I still have a lot to learn. Indigenization of curriculum at all levels is a big issue in our province right now, and I gave my students a reading on it since our academic writing topic is education, so I wanted to know more.

      I have definitely been drawn to “old friend” mysteries more than new ones for my listening lately–I think since that’s my downtime low attention “reading,” I don’t want the effort of learning a new world.

  2. banff1972 says:

    Thanks for linking to my review of Herdan-Zuckmayer! I agree Farm is perfect before-bed reading, with all those episodic, relatively short chapters.

    I love the Montalbano books. About ten books in I kind of went off them–the macho thing you mentioned seemed to get worse. But after a couple of weak books, the series rebounded nicely, especially as the depictions of female characters improved. What I love about them is how comforting they are in their sameness: Catarella continues to mangle the language, Fazio can’t help but compile too many unnecessary facts, Mimi is still as oily as ever.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Thanks for that great review, which introduced me to the book! I doubt I would have discovered it otherwise.

      The familiarity of Montalbano’s world and the fact that the characters don’t really change is part of what’s appealing to me right now, for sure.

      • banff1972 says:

        Sometime I want to write something about what keeps us reading series. For me, anyway, I read a lot of series not because the mysteries are so awesome (I find the Montalbanos somewhere between too confusing and too simple) but because of the familiarity of the world.

  3. I have never been able to get into the Montalbano novels, possibly because I will insist on reading an author chronologically and of course their first work is not always their best or even particularly representative of what is to follow. I hadn’t thought about trying him on audio but perhaps it might get me over that first hurdle.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I really like the narrator, Grover Gardner–I’ve enjoyed his work on other books, too, like Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. (He is a prolific narrator). I have “read in order” issues too, and when you drop into a series midway you can feel bewildered by all the characters you’re supposed to “know” already, but I will say this is a series that doesn’t really NEED to be read in order. I don’t think character arcs are a feature.

  4. lawless says:

    Looking at a list of them, it looks like I left off at Montalbano #15, which almost exhausts the volumes that have been translated into English. So it took awhile for the macho attitude to exhaust me.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I find it helps that Livia calls him on the worst of his caveman behavior, and he kind or recognizes it himself though that doesn’t always stop him.

  5. I know someone who will really get some use out of the Cote-Meek book, so thanks for the rec!

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