Archive for November, 2015

November 22, 2015

Of Interest (22 November, 2015)

Not Books:

David Robson talks to Nick Middleton about his new book on countries that don’t exist. A bit blissfully apolitical for its subject matter but I’m willing to ascribe that to the BBC rather than Middleton’s book (hopefully). Via Maureen Kincaid Speller.

David Whitehouse on the origins of modern policing in England and America. (Via the Metropolarity tumblr account, which you should be following.)

An Xiao Mina on #firstworldproblems and imagining the world. Not much here feels new, but this past week or so it has felt necessary. Related, Samira Nadkarni on fetishising nonwhite bodies to make them mournable.

Manisha Pande on “whataboutery,” the media, and why questioning disproportionate grief isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Rebecca Giggs on a dying whale, and on dying whales. I don’t always know how I feel about aspects of this piece (“what if we were now taking the wildness out of the whale? If deep inside whales the indelible imprint of humans could be found, could we go on recounting the myth of their remarkable otherness, their strange, wondrous and vast animalian world?”); on the other hand it is stunningly, startlingly written; on another hand, probably one belonging to a separate person, it’s easy to manipulate me (and most people, I hope) into feeling things about whales. (Hi Kate, when you see this.) (via Hiromi Goto on twitter.)

Mark Humphries on Niall Ferguson on Paris. Spoiler: Ferguson is wrong, I hope you’re amazed. (via Alex von Tunzelmann and Sanjay Sipahimalani)

Doreen St. Félix on talking to people about rats. (via Kate Schapira)

[If I hadn't shied away from even thinking about this this week, my next link would have been to something on that Daily Mail cartoon depicting refugees as rats this week. Thanks, the UK, you really do make an immigrant feel safe.]

Allison Meier on imagining cannibals into the new world. (via Kawrage on twitter)

Roxane Gay on safe spaces. (See also Kerim Friedman on safe spaces.)

Darran Anderson on architecture and the future.



Like Anjum Hasan, most of the Hindi literature I read is in English translation, though I can read Hindi (slowly). This essay on what we can access of a literary culture in translation, and what we miss of it, is really good.

As an SFF reader I’m both fascinated and made slightly resentful by this piece by Chaitali Sen on her choice to set her novel The Pathless Sky in a fictional country. Because it’s great on the ways that place works, the functions that fictional spaces perform (those of you who have to hear me talk about my thesis a lot are rolling your eyes as you read this) and so baffled by the idea that this might align it in some ways with a genre that … often sets things in fictional spaces, in order that those spaces may perform certain functions. (“Years ago, when I told someone that my then unfinished novel was a love story set in an imaginary country, she asked me if I was a science fiction writer. I thought that was a strange leap, but truthfully she wasn’t the only person who struggled with the idea of an unnamed setting.” It’s … really not a strange leap.)

Anne Boyer on the new Missy Elliot is the most perfect thing. (Also: new Missy Elliot video, new David Bowie video, new MIA song leaked and then apparently removed[?], this is certainly a month.)

Anne E. Fernald on Gertrude Stein and Margaret Wise Brown. I really like this, though the children’s lit person in me is going “but what about-?”  near-constantly as I read.

Clare Napier on gender and the Major’s body in Ghost in the Shell--the link is to the first of a series of essays on the subject that I’m still reading. (via That SabineGirl on twitter.)

Colin Dayan on Lori Gruen’s Entangled Empathy: An Alternative Ethic For Our Relationship With Animals. (via Salman Hussain on twitter.)


November 15, 2015

Of Interest (15 November, 2015)


Priyamvada Gopal on Edward Said and Humanism.

Poorna Swami interviews Annie Zaidi about her own writing, and about Unbound, her anthology of Indian women’s writing that I’ve been dipping in and out of for the last few months. (via Nilanjana Roy)

Jess Zimmerman on the history of ‘owning’ land on the moon.

As a Person With Fraught Feelings About My Languages (and a person who loves Ursula the Sea Witch), I liked this, by Sophia Al-Maria, on her own relationship with Arabic.

I have more complicated feelings about this piece by McKenzie Wark.

Keguro linked to this piece by Egbert Alejandro Martina, on the effects of caring, and it’s great and exactly what I needed at this moment to hang some of my own thinking on and I want to read (probably will end up reading) his whole blog.

Deepika Sarma on constructing a medieval aesthetic in some recent Telugu and Tamil historical/fantasy films.

I was at a recent discussion of Angela Carter’s work and spent much of it thinking something like “sure, but that’s not the best thing about her”. I’ve kept going back to her essay “Anger in a Black Landscape” this year and the whole of it seems to be reprinted here (towards the end of the page) and it’s vital and angry and astonishing.

Danila Tkachenko’s fascinating Restricted Areas series of photographs.

Fascinating writing on things about which I don’t know enough 1. Charles Tonderai Mudede on Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Hyènes. (via Africa’s a Country on twitter)

Fascinating writing about which I don’t know enough 2. andré carrington on Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet at 25. (via Phenderson Djeli Clark)

I can’t not link to Mervyn Peake things, so here’s Rob Maslen on Peake and trees.

Erin Horáková reads A. N. Wilson’s London; is unimpressed; the world is awash with glorious rage. (If you don’t already read Erin you should; this piece says some really smart, important things about Britain’s national mythmaking, and it’s also hilarious.)

This piece by Rishi Majumder on intolerance as culture vs intolerance as incident, Savarkar, and conversations on trains. The title is a lot kinder in its assumptions than I’m capable of being.

November 11, 2015

JiHyeon Lee, Pool

Because water stories. Column here, or below.



JiHyeon Lee’s picture book Pool begins with a young boy by a swimming pool, empty and inviting. He’s about to get in, we assume, when a crowd of other people rush into his (and our) sight. They’re mostly adults, all bigger than him, armed with rubber rings and toys and all looking a lot less serious than our protagonist does. Hell is other people with beach balls. A page later the pool is packed, so full of people and floatation aids that we can barely see the tiny spots of blue water between them. And so our protagonist dives underwater instead, and that is where everything gets exciting.

Sound changes under water, as do movement, and colour, and even time. Immediately once the boy has entered the water he’s cut off from the world above (now a riot of feet and flippers at the top of the page) and in a dreamlike space which seems to work in different ways to the world he’s left behind. This new world has one other human inhabitant; a girl who has had the same idea as him. The boy’s skin and clothes, on the surface the same greys and creams as everyone else, take on new and rich colours; the girl wears a red swimsuit.

Suddenly the children are free, exploring a glorious, improbable underwater world. Shoals of brightly coloured fish with beaklike noses flit birdlike through an underwater forest; tiny creatures with long, tpool3ubelike noses sniff curiously at the intruders. There are friendly sea serpents peeping out of the holes in coral formations, sharklike creatures with huge, prehistoric grins but apparently benign intentions, giant sea slugs, and fish that appear designed to be ridiculous. The range of real world ocean life can often be so weird and wonderful that it’s sometimes hard to be sure that these creatures (a mobile feather boa, a goofy-faced yellow creature with both fur and fins) aren’t based on real things; particularly when a trio of narwhals shows up. Perhaps that’s the point though—our imaginations allow us to have the real and the fantastic simultaneously. We can have dragons and dinosaurs and iguanas all at the same time, should we so choose.

It’s not this diverse underwater menagerie that makes Pool special, however, but how it handles sound and space. In the early pages, there’s often nothing on the page but the boy and his corner of the pool in a vast white plane. Underwater the children have all the space they want; the three-spread sequence in which they meet a huge whale iPool2n particular gives a strong sense of size and scope and wonder. Above, as the pool fills with people, so does the page, till it is covered to the very edges and visually busy. (There’s often something a little disgusting about bodies en masse; in crowds we are reduced to the sweaty meatsacks that we really are. Lee manages to keep her crowds human and distinct, though I wish she hadn’t chosen to depict most of the offending pool-goers as fat.) Pool is a book entirely without words, but manages its depictions of space to make those silences sometimes plangent and echoing (the empty pool, the vast space around it) and sometimes intimate (the underwater world, so safely cocooned against the world above). The colours are delicate, the lines are pencil; it’s a very quiet book.

With an escort of strange creatures, the children swim back to the surface. The crowd has exited the pool as a group (perhaps someone saw a shark); the boy and girl take their goggles and swimming caps off and smile at each other for the first time. Their skin and clothes retain the vivid colour they acquired down below; they have been transformed.

And just as we think the crowd who stayed up on the surface have been utterly discarded by the book, a child in a rubber ring turns around to stare at the weird pink and yellow fish that have appeared in the pool. The children have brought back with them some of the wonder of the deep.


November 8, 2015

Of Interest (8 November, 2015)

Here are some things that I read and that you might like to read.



Rukmini Pande in Popmatters on race and passing in iZombie.

I haven’t worked out quite what I feel about Solarpunk (besides a vague support for anything that is so upsetting to the “but it’s not punk!” people; this piece by Andrew Dana Hudson gets at a lot of its appeal while also managing to be several things I dislike, but there it is anyway.

Frances Chiem on the Life is Strange finale and not letting teenagers save the world.

Two responses to Chetan Bhagat’s embarrassing rant about “liberals”: Sanjay Rajoura offering serious (and useful) opposition here, and twitterer “Doucheslayer” treating the piece with all the respect it deserved here.

While on the subject of quality literature, Shocko reads Striker! by Steve Bruce. Yes really.

Ijeoma Oluo refuses to review Suffragette because “the same process that thinks an entire film in which people of color don’t exist is “relatable” is the same process that leads a group of white women to wear shirts exclaiming their brave preference to not be slaves.” I suggest not reading the comments.

I love this review by Darcie Dennigan of Joanna Walsh’s Vertigo and Hotel, “how embarrassing it is to be alive, how each of us is continually barred from our self”.

Rasheedah Phillips has written and said some amazing things, and this interview with Katy Otto, which covers community, and parenting and Afrofuturism, is so good.

I’d never come across June Jordan’s “The Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry in America” before but thanks to Kate Schapira I now have and maybe you hadn’t either and now you can.

Via Prem Panicker, Amitav Ghosh’s “The Ghosts of Mrs Gandhi“. “It is when we think of the world the aesthetic of indifference might bring into being that we recognize the urgency of remembering the stories we have not written.”

I’m glad The Wire published this translated piece by M.M. Kalburgi. “The Future of Folk in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction“.


The World:

Via Nicholas Tam, Helen MacDonald forages for mushrooms.

Autostraddle’s Rachel on growing up with/in/near Salem.

Kitty Stryker on suicide and radical self-reliance.

Moon Ribas “reflects the same uncertainty as anyone living along earth’s many fault lines: trusting in stillness, but knowing that turbulence can come at any time”, this is amazing.

November 2, 2015

October Reading

Books I finished in October:

Uday Prakash (trans. Jason Grunebaum), The Girl with the Golden Parasol: I wrote about this for a column, and then added a whole bunch of gushing about all the columns I didn’t write here. It’s a good book, Prakash is a wonderful writer, Grunebaum’s a good translator.


Only one book, though.

I’m reading (slowly) W.E.B. Dubois’s Dark Princess, which is reminding me of his genius at nonfiction if it’s not doing much for my opinion of his fiction, Celeste Rita Baker’s Back, Belly and Side, and Dale Jamieson and Bonnie Nadzam’s Love in the Anthropocene, along with (theoretically) the other books I said I was reading a couple of monthly round-up posts ago (except in practice I haven’t touched them). I’m hoping to spend Christmas reading under a blanket and maybe getting through some of the TBR pile, if I’m not working. On current form, I expect instead to spend the whole time staring blankly into space.