Reading Roundup: July 2021

His money went largely towards books, which to him were like sacred objects, providing ballast for his mind.

Michelle Obama, Becoming

It only took me months to do so (or years really if you look at when it was published) but I finally finished Michelle Obama’s Becoming this month and I must say it was well worth the time commitment. Now, let me be clear, I do not mean that this is not an especially long book but rather that finding 18 hours to listen to the audiobook proved challenging with an 18-month-old to run around after. But, I did it! It has finally been moved to my “Read” list. And it feels damn good.

This book is infinitely quotable. Michelle’s writing style is lyrical and moving filled with keen observations and oh so much heart. I’m not sure if I’ll be doing reviews of audiobooks on here – I suppose that depends if I remain in this slump of physical book readings – but consider this my highest recommendation. Do give it a go if you have the chance!

While I won’t be doing a deep dive into my reflections on her book here (perhaps in a later post…) I will say that the quote I featured above actually elicited an unexpectedly joyful reaction in me as I recognized part of myself in the former President of the United States (and one of the few I have legitimately admired while in office – don’t sue me).

Ask my husband, our house is chockfull of books. I’m talking more bookshelves than any other piece of furniture we own, and each of them completely filled to the brim. And the piles, oh the piles of books without a home. And the worst part? Most of them I haven’t even yet read! I just can’t help picking up every single intriguing book I come across. They truly are irresistible to me.

Well, OK, I guess I’m not treating them like sacred objects if I’m piling them all over the place but…they are most certainly a ballast to my ever-turbulent mind.

And with that, let’s take a look at all the not-books I read this month instead of rescuing some of the ever-multiplying tomes from their dusty prisons!

articles

Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com
The real urban jungle: how ancient societies reimagined what cities could be, by Patrick Roberts

I absolutely love reading articles that challenge the way history has been written and told. As mentioned before, I find history an endlessly fascinating subject, in part because of its ever-changing nature. There is no such thing as a definitive history, no matter what the back cover of that 1000 page tome says. The most beautiful thing about studying the past is that we are forever trying to figure it out, to tease as much rich detail out of it as possible. This article (and related book) takes one of these “historical truths”, i.e. the primitive nature of ancient tropical civilizations, and turns it on its head using the most recent research available. The idea that these societies were not, as once thought, densely packed populations existing solely in the shadow of their famous associated ruins (then monuments) but rather sprawling low-density settlements which made real attempts at a reciprocal relationship with the natural world is as awe-inspiring as it is crucial to the de-centering of the white, European view of the world. I’ll likely add the related book to my ever-growing to read list. I can’t help it! I’m just so curious.

Urban archaeologists, like our societies in general, tend to focus on the photogenic remains of elite structures that attract tourists and film crews. When your tropical city is built on sprawling networks of independent farmers and craftspeople, it is easy to miss the remarkable resilience inherent in the foundations of the system.

Patrick Roberts

‘A career change saved my life’: the people who built better lives after burnout by Emine Saner

Burnout is something that so many of us have experienced, regardless of our age. In today’s fast-paced, hustle-focused society, it feels like we are constantly just barely holding burnout at bay while overburdening our insufficient coping mechanisms in order to avoid dealing with the root causes of our growing anxiety, stress, and overall crumbling mental health. While this pandemic has in one way forced us to slow down, it has also blurred the lines between work and home while simultaneously ripping away our support systems leading to more burnout that just occurs behind closed doors. This article clearly shows that there is another way, though it is an easier path to take for some than others (depending on personal finances and life stages). We don’t have to accept burnout as the norm. It’s OK to choose a happy, if less wealthy, life. Your mental and physical health ARE important. Don’t ever forget that.

We’re at a tipping point, I think, where the old world is not fit for purpose any more. There’s this narrative in society which is that in order to be successful, you’ve got to sacrifice your health or your relationships, or things that are important to you. You’ve got to hustle. And I really don’t agree with that.

Mel MacIntyre, business coach

Donations flood in to restore Gaza bookshop destroyed by Israeli airstrikes, by alison flood

The seemingly never-ending conflict between Palestine and Israel has flared up again of late after simmering for a while (at least according to the Western media – which I’m sure doesn’t report on everything). In this heartbreaking piece, one gets a sense of the ordinary good people caught up in this devastating conflict. It warms my heart to see so many people stepping in to replace a business which clearly made its mark on the surrounding community. Can’t we, as human beings, somehow learn to get along?

I sat thinking about why my shop was bombed. I did not publish, write, or attack any country or person in my life. I did not spread hatred but spread culture, science and love. I did not find answers to my questions.

Bookshop owner Samir Mansour

Where the buffalo roam: world’s longest wildlife bridge could cross the Mississippi, by kari paul

I love reading about innovative solutions to our degradation of the environment and this idea is no exception. Wildlife bridges in general seem to me to be a no-brainer (coming from someone who has indeed totaled a car by running into a deer on the highway at dusk) and this is the same concept on a much bigger scale. What intrigued me the most about this article was the inclusion of Indigenous involvement in the project which is so key in all colonized nations as we work towards reconciliation. All in all, what a fascinating and encouraging article!

Native American groups say bison restoration is an important means of reconnecting with the land and local history – and recognizing the interlinked atrocities committed against bison and Indigenous people.

Kari Paul

Illusions of empire: Amartya Sen on what British rule really did for India

This is a LONG read but well worth the effort of reading to the end (despite modern reading habits telling us that anything which can’t be summarized in a page or two is overlong – something I vehemently disagree with). As a Canadian especially, and one determined to learn more about this nation’s own colonial history and the mark it has left on both the land and its original inhabitants, it was eye-opening to read a piece on the complicated relationship of India to its own colonial history (theirs being as the colonized). Amartya writes with wit and pulls no punches when it comes to the racist under- and overtones of Britain’s occupation of India and the way in which this history has been talked about. I honestly learned so much reading this and recommend it to anyone looking to deepen their understanding of the history of colonization.

What India needed at the time was more constructive globalisation, but that is not the same thing as imperialism. The distinction is important.

Amartya Sen

The invisible addiction: is it time to give up caffeine? By Michael Pollan

As an avid coffee drinker and a struggling writer, this was especially eye-opening read to me. I’m not sure that I’ll be giving up caffeine any time soon with a toddler to care for while balancing my own work, creative pursuits and household chores, but it’s definitely made me think about eventually giving up caffeine altogether… Right now, I’ll admit a huge part of coffee’s allure is the jolt of consciousness but eventually maybe I’ll be getting enough sleep to appreciate flavours over levels of caffeinating. One can only hope! I’d honestly take a good sleep over caffeine any day, and I do admit to be curious to see how my brain actually functions naturally without the constant doses of stimulant!

The power of caffeine to keep us awake and alert, to stem the natural tide of exhaustion, freed us from the circadian rhythms of our biology and so, along with the advent of artificial light, opened the frontier of night to the possibilities of work.

Michael Pollan

‘We tried to be joyful enough to deserve our new lives’: What it’s really like to be a refugee in Britain, by Zarlasht Halaimzai

This story is important. It is so important. If you read nothing else I have posted here, please read this one. In this age of division, when people are becoming so polarized that they REFUSE to see that another point of view is possible, we need to do everything in our power to move towards one another again. To attempt to understand each other. To remember that at the end of the day, we are all human beings, and we all deserve life and happiness. Why is this so hard for some people to remember? When you look at a refugee and find yourself feeling mistrust or fear, you must do everything you can to swallow those negative feelings built upon centuries of ingrained prejudice and instead search deep inside for your empathy, your compassion, your recognition of a fellow human being just trying to get by in this unequal and ill-governed world. How else can we hope to end horrible relics of humanity’s worst moments (such as racism, sexism, white supremacy) if we do not take the first steps towards embracing our fellow humans, regardless of their country of origin, the colour of their skin, the language on their tongues, or any of the innumerable other factors which differentiate the countless human souls on this earth. This article will give you a glimpse of what it is like to be a refugee, to feel constantly unsafe and unwanted. And this is important, especially if you’ve never felt like this. Because how can we possibly understand and help to make things better if we won’t even make the effort to listen?

Seeking asylum makes you feel self-conscious about your very existence. There is a feeling that pervades all your interactions, as if you constantly need to justify your presence.

Zarlasht Halaimzai

blogs

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com
Indigenous Peoples’ Day – A Poem by Faye Arcand

I have no brilliant words to describe why this hit me so hard. It just did. Read it, educate yourself on the Indigenous experience of Canada, and reflect on how we can move forward in reconciliation.

in our world now I weep for those families / my apology of recognition is all I have to give

Faye Arcand

Another Way, by Rae Cod for Edge of Humanity

This poem honestly gave me chills. While I have hope that I still have a long life to live, it was interesting to read how different people may look back at the life they have lived in their final moments. I won’t spoil anything for you, in the hopes that you will read it yourself, but I truly hope I go out the same way as the final woman mentioned in the poem. I want to enjoy this life, who knows, it may be the only one I get!

Death looked back as they journeyed onwards, saw the light in her loved ones souls / She’d taught them how to love, she’d shown the next generation how to be whole

Rae Cod

books

I’ll admit, I’m still very much working on finding my reading-groove again.

This month, as mentioned in the intro to this piece, I did manage to finish Becoming by Michelle Obama but I’m still slogging through both The Fiery Cross and Ramses at a startlingly slow pace. I think part of it is their innate challenges (TFC is about 1000 pages long and Ramses is written in my second language) but more likely it’s because I’m still not carving out enough time to read an honest-to-goodness book every day.

However, the good news is I started listening to another audiobook, again off my To-Read list. This one is Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and I’m loving it so far. Let’s see if I can manage to finish it before the 5th renewal this time!

If you have any advice on how to rebuild a reading habit, please let me know! I’m feeling the pressure a bit now because I have a review for the Outlander book scheduled for mid-August. Wish me luck…

And, as always, do let me know if you read anything above or if you have read anything else that particularly struck you. I’m always looking for recommendations.

Keep reading! And, remember, life is beautiful.

xo Erin

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