Wednesday reading roundup: July 27

With the world in disarray, reading can remind us that history is cyclical, humans are resilient, and beauty and hope continue to exist and even thrive.If you’ve visited this feature before, you’ve perhaps noticed that my inspiration for these Wednesday reading roundups is Taking on a World of Words, who hosts WWW Wednesday, and Coffee and Cats, who introduced me to it. I mention it every week and worry that my thanks will come to seem perfunctory. It is decidedly not.

Over the last month, I’ve had many moments of wondering why … about so many things. It’s a question I’ve asked before, for different reasons. This month, I find myself despairing of the world around me, near and far. As you can imagine, it makes focusing on reading a challenge. What is the point of it all? I ask myself. This is especially so when the books I read feel so far removed from the very real and pressing problems of the world as to seem distastefully self-indulgent.

What I forget in these moments is how transformative books can be. Reading can remind me how resilient humans are, how much beauty and love can be found in the world. Books can remind me that human history is cyclical, not the linear march of progress we may wish it were. But there is hope in this too.

When I say *thank you* each week to Taking on a World of Words and Coffee and Cats, I’m saying thank you for inspiring me to stay close to books. Thank you for the reading community that inspires me to find the books that I can focus on, because they speak to me and the moment I’m living through right now.

What are you currently reading?

I’m still working on Harry Mount’s Odyssey: Ancient Greece in the Footsteps of Odysseus. It’s not a terribly long book, but I don’t have large stretches of time to read at the moment, so I’m allowing myself all the time I need. Lingering in the ancient world with Mount is proving very calming for me.

What did you recently finish reading?

I finished Stargazy Pie by Laura Lockington. I was enjoying the characters and story until I came upon an upsetting scene: Characters attend some sort of festival where performers appear with boot polish on their faces. As this is a novel by a British author for a British audience, and the two Englishes are not always the same, I’ve realized I may be jumping to conclusions. Can anyone tell me if it has the same meaning in the U.K. as in the U.S.?

What do you think you’ll read next?

I started By The Numbers by Jen Lancaster, but I don’t feel it’s the right time for her novel and me. I read the first 30 pages and struggled to focus, so I am setting it aside for now.

I suspect it may be time to start reading Homer’s The Odyssey. Mount’s memoir is making me want to experience it.

What books are on your read, reading, and will read lists?

8 Replies to “Wednesday reading roundup: July 27”

  1. I so, so hear you about questioning everything but ultimately realizing the value of reading, especially in times like these! And I also feel like, if there’s no cheer in the world, no way to escape terrible things, then what’s the point of living at all? And at least you’re using books for finding the good side of humanity…I’ve been sticking to cat videos and Buzzfeed listicles, mostly…. Possibly because my current reading choice, “Wolf Hall”, is GORGEOUSLY written but so violent and bleak as well. Bring on the cat videos!

    Your issue with the blackface scene in the book you were reading is so interesting. I know that in some places, like the Netherlands, it’s apparently not considered racist at all. In fact, I had a VERY awkward moment with one of my husband’s friend’s kids, who had been living in Holland until very recently. Around Christmastime, they lovingly took down a big book from their bookshelf and opened it, gazing happily at the pretty images and sharing them with me. It was the story of Zwarte Piet, who’s drawn like a caricature of a black person that would be considered racist in the US today, and is portrayed in real life during the holidays by numerous Dutchmen adorned in blackface. Zwarte Piet is sort of like Santa’s head elf in their version of the Christmas story, but looking at the images and listening to what the kids were telling me, he came off as more like Santa’s prized slave – or slaves, because at least in this book, Santa’s house was full of Zwarte Piets making toys and the like. It was hard not to be completely horrified and just go with it, because these kids clearly respected and adored Zwarte Piet and were not racist or derogatory towards him. He just happened to be black. It was like how my son feels about Santa’s elves. And maybe that color/culture blindness is a good thing? All that to say, I’ve heard that in countries that don’t have our horrible history of slavery (even if they may have played some role in the slave trade or allowed slavery for a brief period), blackface is perceived differently.

    England, on the other hand…. I’m not so sure about . I know those Golliwog dolls, which resemble Zwarte Piet a bit, are considered racist and offensive there now. But I don’t know….

    Your question has really intrigued me…. I found this on the Wikipedia page for “black face”, specifically the subheading relating to the UK:

    “A sketch in a 2003 episode of Little Britain features two characters who appear in blackface as minstrels, as regularly seen on British television until the 1980s. The same characters return for one 2005 sketch. In the sketches, the racist overtones are subverted with the characters presented as belonging to a race genuinely possessing the appearance of white men in blackface (referred to as “Minstrels”) who are persecuted by the public and local government in a similar manner to European government treatment of the Romani people.
    The Britannia Coco-nut Dancers currently continue their traditional performances in blackface.”

    OR wait – this could be okay, maybe – was the scene taking place at a Border Morris Dance? If so, that’s apparently considered a deep-rooted historic tradition that’s not intentionally racist (although I’m sure it might make some people, even in the UK, feel uncomfortable or offended today). There’s a good article on the Border Morris Dance on Wikipedia.

    Also, if you do a Google search for the term (I’m not sure if I can include links without your commenting system thinking I”m a spambot, there’s a very informative article about it from The Telegraph. The comments section there is interesting because it also reflects the controversy.

    Wow, that was really interesting, and hopefully what you read in the book was something like this, so not 100% terrible, although yeah, I wouldn’t feel comfortable watching it, either.

    That aside, I hope you’re continuing to enjoy your vacation!

    1. Wow, Alysa, thank you for putting so much thought and information into this. It was frankly jarring and upsetting for me to stumble on that in a book I was otherwise enjoying, especially because it was about two sentences with very little context. What you said about countries that don’t have a history of slavery resonated with me. In Greece, well, we didn’t really exist for several centuries. The Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottomans in the mid 15th century and remained part of the Ottoman Empire until the early 19th century, and later for other parts of the country. The island my family is from didn’t become part of modern Greece until 1912, and three of my four grandparents were ethnic Greeks born under the Ottoman Empire. This has made me very sensitive about appropriation and representation, for other races, ethnicities, and cultures as well as my own.

  2. I’m glad the community is helping you find books that keep you reading and keep your TBR growing. That’s what I love about our community. I hope you enjoy ‘The Odyssey.’ It does seem an appropriate time for you to read it. Happy reading and thanks for participating in WWW Wednesday!

    1. Thank you! I read the prologue yesterday, and it is beautiful. I’m excited to keep going. Happy reading to you too!

  3. I love that you can take even a simple weekly round-up of books and turn it into a beautiful reflection on what staying close to books can do for our lives!

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