September 3, 2015

August Reading

Leaving out rereads for comfort and things I’m rereading for the nth time for my thesis, this is the sum of my reading  in August. I am also working my way very slowly through Jessie Greengrass’s An Account of The Decline of the Great Auk According to One Who Saw It, John Gordon’s The Giant Under the Snow, and Annie Zaidi’s edited anthology Unbound, but reading has been very, very slow.

 

Penelope Lively, The House at Norham Gardens: I love the feel of this book–the prose, the quiet interiority of it, everything. What I don’t like about it (and I don’t know to what extent this is the result of reading it for work rather than for itself) is its sense of aboutness–it feels very much a book About Memory and About PostImperial Britain in ways that  reduce its potential to be more than those things. But again, possibly this is more my fault (or the fault of the context in which I’m reading) than the book’s. It is still gorgeous, though.

Terry Pratchett, The Shepherd’s Crown: I was worried about reading this one because Raising Steam was terrible, in nails-down-chalkboard ways of jarringly bad. The Shepherd’s Crown is certainly far, far better than that– and a good Last Book in the ways it attempts to tie things up, marry existing plot threads, and generally create an impression of things ending (and things beginning). And it’s about old men and women and happy deaths in ways that could easily feel manipulative but (to me) did not. What I’m not sure about is whether it’s a good Discworld book, and whether, considering that its final act is a version of the final acts of the last two , possibly three, Tiffany Aching books, it counts as a good book in this sub-series. But I’m glad I could enjoy it.

 

 

 

 

September 1, 2015

Nikesh Shukla, Meatspace

This isn’t really a column about Nikesh Shukla’s Meatspace, which I read many months ago and quite enjoyed (or about the Anouk ad, which features two queer women who look and sound nothing like me). It might be about naming in the present and the future–about the half-assed but (to me) vaguely endearing thing Jupiter Ascending did by having a white, blonde space!cop called Gemma Chatterjee and a black space!cop (Nikki Amuka-Bird, who was astonishingly, unfairly beautiful throughout) called Diomika Tsing.* Or the thing Arthur C. Clarke does in Rendezvous with Rama with the information, just thrown in there, that Norton’s full name is William Tsien Norton. These names work as quick signifiers (but then they assume that you will notice what they’re doing, and I don’t know if Shukla can make that assumption) for the sort of future, or in Jupiter Ascending‘s case the sort of genocidal multicultural galactic capitalist empire, that this is.

And I’m pretty sure it’s a column about Sofia Samatar’s fantastic tweets about authenticity some weeks ago.

And possibly about who has the right to write inauthentically? I don’t know. Anyway.

 

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I don’t know what to make of Kitab Balasubramanyam.

Kitab is the social-media-obsessed protagonist of Nikesh Shukla’s Meatspace, a book that is, depending on my mood, either a smart, and often moving satire of the way we live now or daddish panicking about social media taking over our lives. But my mixed feelings about the book are pretty slight, when compared to my mixed feelings about Kitab himself.

Kitab Balasubramanyam has a brother named Aziz (Balasubramanyam?), and a father who notes that it’s nice that Kitab and his Indian cousins all speak the language of the internet so that “you don’t have to pretend you know Gujarati anymore”.

The paper in which this column is to be published is read in the main by people who will be well aware that Kitab Balasubramanyam is an unusual name. When, early in the book, the character meets, apparently, the only other Kitab Balasubramanyam in the world, the real surprise is that there are two of them. (Were I to hunt down every Aishwarya Subramanian in the world I’d probably collapse from exhaustion somewhere in the middle of Chennai.)

Implied context and assumptions about what audiences (and authors) know are central to my Kitab-confusion. As an Indian reader in the genres I read, I’m all too familiar with books by British or American authors who haven’t done their research (or who have decided that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom constitutes research); when the Indian character shows up I’m often already bracing myself to laugh or cringe. Nine times out of ten I’d assume that the improbable Mr Balasubramanyam was the result of similar ‘research’; half-knowledge of friends’ names and experiences cobbled together. That I don’t make that assumption in this case is entirely due to the fact that Shukla is of Indian origin himself. Perhaps that’s unfair and I should grant him the same right to ignorance as any British author (it is possible that I have been overthinking this).

And yet, and yet, and yet. Kitab Balasubramanyam is unlikely, but he’s not impossible.

Earlier this year an advertisement for the clothing brand Anouk, featuring two young women in a relationship, went viral. Amidst the several conversations that immediately sprang up were those who questioned the authenticity of one character’s speaking Tamil over the phone to her parents—no one spoke Tamil like that. I found myself bristling each time (some of these critics weren’t even Tamil speakers)—my own Tamil is significantly worse, but then I’m a very inauthentic Indian (and Tamil person, and probably several other things) myself. I have the sort of roving accent that comes of a lot of moving around, a lot of code-switching, and an excess of self-consciousness. Demanding authenticity from characters in literature, film, or even advertising is a dangerous path to tread because it can only ever mean deciding that certain people/identities are inauthentic, or impossible, or unreal. Less (?) seriously, it means distilling characters down to their most obvious traits, making them the most average they can possibly be. I’d say it was the equivalent of populating entire universes with people called John Smith, except that we know the John Smiths of the world are the least likely to have their identities policed. But think of every western TV series you’ve ever watched with the one Indian guy either in I.T., or a doctor, named Ravi or Raj.

If all of this seems like it’s drifted rather far from the book in question, I’m going to claim that it has not. Because of its subject, Meatspace is very strongly about identities, real and projected, and implied audiences. I don’t know if I want to claim that the naming of the main character is part of a cunning strategy; maybe Shukla just wanted to write about a character whose complex family history could lead to his having that name without the need to justify his existence to his audience; maybe he just didn’t care. Either way, I think I prefer Kitab Balasubramanyam to Ravi from I.T.

 

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I’m … less convinced, shall we say, about the movie’s choice to have an elephant-headed alien space cop called “Nesh”, but friends who have seen Sense8 tell me this isn’t the most hilaribad invocation of Ganesha in the Wachowskis’s oeuvre (or even in said oeuvre in 2015) so hey.

August 30, 2015

Of Interest (30 August, 2015)

I’ve not done this for a couple of weeks, so this may possibly be long. Possibly.

 

Books:

This conversation between Ethan Robinson and Kip Manley and everything that either of them links to is wonderful (and they are wonderful).

And so Chughtai constantly invites scrutiny”.  Tahira Naqvi, here

M. Asli Dukan gives me the critical term I needed in the White Fantastic Imagination.

Young Black Writers: After Michael Brown (via Kate Schapira)

Slightly in love with Akwaeke Emezi’s prose. Via the Blaft twitter account.

“How did you ever get away with it?” Gwyneth Jones’s letter to James Tiptree Jr.

Aseem Shrivastava on Premchand in the Caravan (Via Chapati Mystery)

Jamaica Kincaid on James Baldwin

 

Serena Williams:

This piece by Claudia Rankine is the best thing you’ll read this week and I can’t believe you haven’t already, if you haven’t already.

Brian Philips on Williams (by way of Christopher Logue)

Mallory Ortberg wrote commemorative fanfiction of Serena Williams and Drake’s relationship (this is just a very good week for Williams-related writing, okay?)

 

Neither Books Nor Serena:

Nanjala Nyabola on Europe’s empathy crisis.

Hannah Black on social media, performance, violence.

Europeans attempt to draw elephants (via Richard Palmer)

More elephants! By Arati Rao.

Nadika on online dating while trans (via Supriya Nair)

There’s so much in this piece by Kate Schapira that I want to  yes but at and it’s wonderful.

Natalia Cecire on Apple, Google, modernism and childhood. (Via what felt like half the world, and you’ve probably seen it already, and it’s fantastic)

Kuzhali Manickavel watches some exotic occidental movies.

Bats inside carnivorous plants! (via Kate Schapira) (“where is my mutualism partner?”)

Nilakantan R.S. on the desertification of Tamil Nadu.

 

August 9, 2015

Of Interest (9 August, 2015)

 

Books:

Jeff VanderMeer reads Clarice Lispector’s Complete Stories.

Ainehi Edoro on Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon (which I wrote about here); this piece says particularly good things about the novel’s claiming of SF for Africa (and this strikes me as a very different thing to the reverse, claiming certain African narratives for SF)

Diana Fuss on Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal and “the interpretive work of being human“.

This interview with Juliana Spahr is short but great and involves a reading. (And I’m indebted to Sridala for my copy of This Connection of Everyone With Lungs a few years ago)

Mahesh Rao writes a sex scene.

H is for Hawk is one of those books I had to keep closing and kept cutting too close and I may link to a million reviews of it and here is one by Dinah Lenney.

If colonialism was the apocalypse, what comes next?

 

Not books:

Supriya Nair wrote about cricket advertising in India and it is wonderful. I would read anything she ever wrote (I probably have read her shopping lists) but Supriya on sport is probably one of my favourite things in the world. (See also this piece on the football World Cup from last year)

This interview with Elysia Crampton (via Ethan Robinson) is astonishing and beautiful. “[...] not only how to make sense of this split within me, but how to live successfully with such a split, knowing that it goes all the way down, cutting up subjectivities, negating false claims to nativity, erasing naturalities, denouncing binaries all by my mere existing, making everything queer.”

Via Eric Gurevitch, this podcast discussing  societies’ historical relationships with elephants in India and other places. This should probably come under books because Thomas Trautmann (on the podcast) has written one about this, but. Elephants!

Taran N. Khan on wearing and not wearing the shameez.

There’s something deeply gratifying about seeing one’s culture as of the moment.” Navneet Alang on Buzzfeed, virality, cultural imperialism and resistance (I have conflicted feelings about this one).

Prachi Patankar on yoga, Hinduism and cultural appropriation.

Malcolm Harris thinks you should probably maybe stop trying to have sex with robots.

I am so, so glad of Sara Ahmed.Via Kawrage on tumblr.

 

August 3, 2015

July Reading

I’m still having trouble reading actual books; at the moment I have, unfinished, Indra Das’s The Devourers, Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceeding the End of the World, Andrea Hairston’s Lonely Stardust, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Sarah Tolmie’s NoFood, and B. Catling’s The Vorrh; and these are all things I want to read, and some of them I love already and yet. It’s probably the largest number of books I’ve ever had on the go at once, and it’s getting a bit embarrassing.

Most of the reading I did manage to do this month was work-related (and most of it rereads); hence the distinctly mid-century-British-ness of this list. Still.

 

Mary Norton, The Borrowers, The Borrowers Afield: I have so many things I want to say about these books, particularly the first. Some of them aren’t even about empire, though it’s more littered with imperial detritus than I could have imagined. Will possibly be writing more, but after the last few months of struggling to write, perhaps it’s best not to even suggest it.

Rupa Gulab, Daddy Come Lately: Middle-Grade-ish book about a child who learns that her parents are divorced, that her dad’s moving back to town, that her mother has been keeping the fact of her existence secret. It’s all rather melodramatic, and there are things it does well, but (in a future column, maybe) there are several things about it that make me roll my eyes.

Robin Stevens, First Class Murder: The most recent Wells and Wong book (I wish the publisher would make up their minds whether these were the Wells and Wong mysteries or Murder Most Unladylike mysteries; they’ve been very inconsistent)–and a locked room (cabin) murder on the Orient Express. It’s set shortly after the publication of Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, which Daisy Wells has of course read, and so this is more directly intertextual than even the first book in the series. It’s lacking some of the weight that the first two have–both those earlier books switch easily between  charming golden-age pastiche and actual human feeling, this was mostly just the former. Which still made it an utter joy to read.

Monica Dickens, The House At World’s End: I saw that this was a 1970 book about a family having adventures in a huge house and thought it was more relevant to my work than it turned out to be. Not the waste of  time it might have been, though, because there’s a lot about this that I really liked–the slight off-kilter-ness of the family (I described it as Nesbittish, early on) and of the language, the earnest, know-it-all girl with badly thought out ideas, the weird lack of consequences to any of the children’s actions, the sudden, occasional reminder that these children are grieving and badly supervised. I don’t know if I have the time to hunt down and read the rest of the series at this point, but maybe omeday.

T.H. White, Mistress Masham’s Repose: This is good, and it is funny and biting and honest and has these moments that just are T.H. White–like the throwaway detail of the vicar who always chooses the nastiest cake at teatime. It’s also annoyingly hard not to reduce to allegory.

Lucy Boston, The Children of Green Knowe: I think I love this a bit less than last time I read it, though it’s still very good.

E.E. Cowper, Camilla’s Castle: Felt a bit inconsequential. Run down castle in almost-Ruritanian space, large family fallen on hard times (and equipped with at least one very precocious child), smuggling, English girls who have honour, foreigners who don’t (but are at least relatively upper-class)–it takes all the tropes of its genre and … doesn’t do very much with them.

Joan Aiken, The Five-Minute Marriage: You know (if you’ve been here longer than five minutes) that I love Aiken, and that I love regencies. And yet, having read one of Aiken’s Austen-sequels and chosen to steer well clear of the others, I know that there are areas of her work I’m better off not reading. I just can’t decide whether this original romance is one of them. I find romances featuring sardonic misogynists (you don’t understand, a woman hurt him once!), gentlewomen who have to (horrors) earn their living despite being obviously better than the working classes, and fake marriages all very satisfying and comforting as romance tropes, however deplorable they may be in real life and the book provides all of these, alongside attempted murder and duels on slippery roofs (do they not know about terraces? complained my friend Dala). And yet it’s leaden, there’s no humour or even charm, and this is a genre where at least one of those things is necessary. It’s no Heyer, is what I’m saying. It’s not even bad Heyer, I mean Regency Buck is better. And yet, I needed a comforting regency romance and I suppose I got one, so I’m not going to condemn it entirely.

James Tiptree Jr, The Starry Rift: I’ll be discussing this as part of a Strange Horizons book club next month. But unrelated to anything I might say there: I’ve discovered that  “The Only Neat Thing To Do” was published in the month of my birth. I’m always particularly fond of books that are the same age as me (the other stories, and the book as a whole, were published the year after, but I’m claiming this one anyway).

August 2, 2015

Of Interest (2 August, 2015)

Unsorted: 

“This is a story about bindis, I think”. Vijeta Kumar on Arundhati, saris, and being the protagonist. (I’m still waiting for someone to write the Baahubali-as-epic-fantasy, so can you get on that, world?)

Via Kate Schapira, this story which kind of looks like the sort of fiction she writes but is real.

Manan Ahmed Saif in the Caravan on histories of partition.

a kind of historical daybreak“; Nayanjot Lahiri on Asoka’s stone edicts, also in the Caravan.

Evan Smith on the Communist Party and its role in Britain’s anti-racist movement.

Why can’t people imagine a future without falling into the sexist past?” (You all already know the answer to this one though)

Lavelle Porter on Henry Dumas, Afrofuturism, #BlackLivesMatter, via Sofia Samatar. This is great.

[This is a space I'm leaving for an appropriately Important-feeling piece on the death of Yakub Memon (suggestions welcome)]

Always revisit this piece by Kristin Cashore on Jansson’s Moomins. Always revisit the Moomin books.

David Thomson’s review of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night made me very happy.

I’d like to start our time together with a moment of breath and awareness for this work and what we are holding.”

July 26, 2015

Of Interest (26 July, 2015)

 

Unsorted:

Austin Walker on superheroes and cities, via Ben Gabriel.

Casey Plett on kindness, call-outs and having people Ally at you. I love this for the word “oogy” which is exactly right for what it describes, and I love that it reminded me of this gorgeous piece by Elena Rose, and it’s just good in several ways. Via Keguro Macharia.

A Kuzhali Manickavel thing.

Ness Io Kain on expressing gender identity in video game avatars, and Animal Crossing: New Leaf‘s weird committment to the gender binary, via Maureen Kincaid Speller. (Lots of really good linked pieces as well)

By Metta Sáma, Rage, Rage Against: For the guy who said it wasn’t about race but about bad choices in friends. Via Sridala Swami.

Always reread Sofia Samatar (as Ethan Robinson reminded me)

Kian Ganz on the Indian Supreme Court’s history with the death penalty (via @JiManish on twitter).

A collection of papers from last year’s Visualising Fantastika conference.

Deepanjana Pal on Sujoy Ghose’s Ahalya and the Ahalyas of Hindu mythology.

Genevieve Valentine on Shirley Jackson’s Let Me Tell You.

This lost documentary about homosexuality which has recently been rediscovered. Via Matthew Cheney.

Paromita Vohra on being the new girl at a school in Delhi in the 1980s. “I think one can go so far as to say it was a lot about the skirt.

I linked to a beautiful Anne Boyer thing last week and this is a different beautiful Anne Boyer thing.

Nicola Griffith on the Anglo Saxons, being elf-shot, medicine and belief.

July 20, 2015

Of Interest (19 July, 2015)

(These lists have, slightly reshuffled, been available for the last couple of weeks as part of The New Inquiry’s Sunday Reading, and will continue to be that way. Keeping any commentary on them here, but at that link you’ll also find other lists of links by people with excellent taste, so you should go and look.)

 

Not-books:

Devaki Jain on Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay and Indian feminism.

Eric Gurevitch’s useful contribution to the Sanskrit-and-plagiarism conversation.

We’re all agreed that Anne Boyer is amazing, right?

How early photographers saw India.

On mourning, repetition and re-memories. All of this.

Reading Comprehension, via Sayak Dasgupta.

 

 

Books:

Niall Harrison reviews James Bradley’s Clade and asks important questions about scale and empathy (and the difficulty of naming climate change fiction).

Sara Paretsky on V.I. Warshawski and talking back.

Victoria Patterson on Barbara Pym. Much that is uncomfortably familiar here. (And speaking of LARB and spinsters, this is also good.)

Sofia Samatar on writing queerly (many of my favourite words there).

Anis Shivani on “plastic realism“, in two parts.  (This comes via Ethan Robinson)

This fantastic interview with Namwali Serpell, via Sofia Samatar. Contains Afronauts, artist-readers, mutiny.

 

 

 

July 12, 2015

Of Interest (12 July, 2015)

Unsorted this week.

 

A Portrait of the Indian as a Young Dalit Girl by Priyanka Dubey.

On Whiteness and Sound Studies, by Gus Stadler.

Via Ethan, Gorgeous as a Jungle Bird, on gay marriage and religion, by Jacob Bacharach.

Keep Your Sorry”: On Slavery, Marriage and the Possibility of Love by Alexis Pauline Gumbs.

In Muse India’s SF issue, Vandana Singh on SF, Climate Change and the Future (I linked to the whole issue a few weeks ago but this essay deserves more love than I’ve seen for it).

Amartya Sen on the revival of Nalanda.

Rose Eveleth on the Subversive Science Fiction of Hip-Hop.

J.A. Micheline, the White Privilege, White Audacity and White Priorities of Strange Fruit #1.

Is fun fun? Nakul Krishna on Aubrey Menen.

Karen Burnham on SPACE

From Nowhere, an interview with Antoine Volodine.

July 5, 2015

Of interest (5 July, 2015)

So much that is good this week!

 

Books (kind of):

Megan Milks on fanfiction; this is good, and then there’s “it expresses an attitude not of denigration or gentle mockery, but desire mixed with betrayal. It’s infatuated, and it hurts. It wants”, and my heart is doing funny things. 

Tipu Sultan’s dream journal. I want to read all of this.

Peepli’s gorgeous landscape glossary, via Dala and Kate separately.

Hari Kunzru on Dune is fantastic; also well worth it for the unhappy fans wellactuallying in the comments.

Frederic Jameson on Neuromancer at Public Books.

 

Not books (kind of):

Sara Ahmed on academia and its “problem students” (hint: those scare quotes are there for a reason).

Margaret Biser on some of the questions she was asked while giving tours on a plantation.

Bree Newsome Bree Newsome Bree Newsome.

Alexander Chee on America’s queer future, and then a coda to the earlier piece.

Rakesh Dixit reporting on the bizarre Vyapam story.

Alyssa Rosenberg on (Western) pop culture’s use of white supremacist villains to create comforting narratives–this is good, though I’m not sure it goes far enough for me. Perhaps a companion piece/coda is needed?