#ReadingOutsideTheBox

MOST RECENT

Sunday mornings with Chee (not pictured, as I am too busy reading to take a photo) & tea & these beautiful pieces of art painted by artists taught through Studio C at @prospect_human_services - which is a program that uses art to equip communities who face barriers when seeking jobs, such as those with mental health or disability, with skills and confidence for employment & as I read Chee & look at these paintings, I am moved by what art can do, how much it can open before us, how much it can take the measure of our hearts and grow us up and out, how much it took my snarky insecurities of the week & uncrooked them, heard them & taught them & O ode to art, to artists, to each who see what we always see and see it anew

The inventiveness and relentlessness of Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s writing provides a violent and yet also very felt book that seethes with the surreal and the uncanny and the twisting of fiction formulas to reveal the underbelly, whatever darkness that may be. Indeed, Friday Black shows visions of the world then and now and tomorrow that feel eerily possible, hauntingly prophetic, freakily prescient, all by dropping the barest of clarifying and intensifying filters over the familiar shopping mall, the library, the rise and fall of the sun. The opening and closing story-salvos remain close with me. The first, “The Finkelstein Five,” involves angry protests over the murder of black children, who were decapitated with a chainsaw by a middle-aged white man—an unflinching and vitally essential roar about black identity and institutionalized racism. The last, “Through the Flash,” involves a bloody timeloop where children (and adults) wreak unbelievable violence on the world and on each other, all as a way to survive, to ultimately come together, in the forever-infinite end. Both these stories are paced so well the story pulls you (are you even turning pages?) and tension is relaxed in dialogue that snaps and crackles, and always there is the sense of a deep undercurrent of human longing. While line-to-line, and story-to-story, I did not always feel the same level of power as in the first and last stories, this is likely because Friday Black, is, above all, a book of ideas. There are the craft-ideas of how to take certain forms of the story (sci-fi or thriller or myth) and twist it to serve a different purpose, and there are the social-critical ideas each story serves about the toxic bloat of capitalism and consumerism and racism. And this is the true magic of Adjei-Brenyah’s writing, though glossy with the futuristic sheen and cover of the surreal and imaginative, when opened, Friday Black’s gaze, searing and sharp, is fixed unwaveringly on the now, unfolding, as you are.

There There begins with a roar, and a gun. Orange writes powerfully about Native American oppression, while keeping a wry eye on how tradition can grow askew and crooked and out-of-place seeming. It’s a howl of a start, which only builds velocity in the first chapter where we meet one of the many Native American characters that There There centres around. At the start, Chekhov’s proverbial gun is hung on the wall, and it is clear Orange will deliver on Chekhov’s exhortation that the gun be fired. Before the firing, however, there are many strands to be woven, and many are complex, and lived-in, undeniably alive with human experience. In particular, I was struck by Edwin Black, who struggles with unfulfilled dreams, as well as constipation. This is an unusual pairing, but one that holds hope and despair and futility and resilience in an affecting balance. Orange hits his highest notes here, when he is writing the complexities of interactions, such as those between estranged sisters Jacquie and Opal who are doing the best that they can, which is not to say they are doing anything perfectly but they are trying in a deeply felt way. However, by my lights, in the novel’s final fifty pages, There There does falter. We always knew the powwow would be robbed, but in a book that thus far had been so fully imagined, so relentlessly nuanced, the events of the last pages didn’t seem to serve the full work of the book. There is a restless and angry and deeply felt force throughout There There and I wanted the last pages to turn me, amid the inevitable violence, to that deep longing and haunted question roiling beneath the surface. There There is so much about, as well as actively, reckoning, that the ending rang slightly hollow for me—slightly too coincidental, too one-note. In a novel that has so much to say, and says it with such thought and care, at the end, I wanted There There to say a little bit more. Still, There There dwells powerfully on identity and its fractures, on Native American relationship to land, and city, to living liminally and ambiguously, to shared feelings of sorrow and joy and hope and certainly all in, this is enough to highly recommend its reading.

Tension. Pg 162. 😬 . Rigor mortis on the brain. I dont understand chess. But I do understand the board isn't looking good for a few of these characters. Pawns. A white queen. A black bishop ... Reading. Head down. And I got a glimpse of my feet. And it was all bent outta shape by tension. Just like the rigor mortis mentioned a few pages ago. Now, on page 162 - "Outside, the last of the day's light seemed to have fled as the clouds came lower, the dark line of trees faded into gray mist, and the heavy snow gently covered the two corpses lying like fallen chess pieces on the manor lawn". I may just have to learn to play chess.
This is my first ever horror novel. So I cant be sure. But Stephen King said "Carrion Comfort is one of the three greatest horror novels of the twentieth century". And I believe him. [#stephenking #bookreview]. #currentread #carrioncomfort #dansimmons #readingoutsidethebox #horrornovel #tension #amustread #mindblown

Friday Black, aptly suited to this night tucked in from snow, with tea, and fuzzy socks, and food on its way, & new hubs, and no need to set my alarm clock tomorrow. What privilege and goodness to be here for a moment & feel a lightening, even for a second, of what i must carry through the week & always thank goodness for books that lift away the carried, whisk it away, erase even irrefutable winter.

‘Doctor, you want to say that the world can be as white as your shirt. Okay, doctor. And that man is a comma between the words “birth” and “death”. But on the honour of your humanitarian profession, doctor, promise to tell me what this empty blank sentence means, and whether the comma is actually necessary.’



I’m a huge fan of Hassan Blasim’s short stories, both this collection and The Madman of Freedom Square (both available from the excellent @commapress, who do such brilliant work publishing exciting contemporary short stories). Blasim’s work is rarely a straightforward read - I tend to endlessly go round in circles trying to decode his complex stories. They’re also incredibly visceral and often painful to read. But his fury, when it’s there, is so on the mark, working hard to examine human cruelty and corruption and the hideous inequalities of our world. And I love how enigmatic the stories are - that there are so many ways of reading them.
I also love how he often uses his own name in the stories, playing with the idea of authorship in clever ways, including thinking about the point of fiction and its processes, especially from the point of view of a refugee writer, which Blasim is. Blasim now lives in Finland, where he sought asylum from Iraq, and as someone half-Finnish, reading the references to life in Finland as an immigrant is particularly fascinating.
Highly recommended!
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I don’t always read reviews but I was glad I read Mina Holland’s for The Guardian, because there I learned she tweeted Luiselli, mentioning Faces was without ‘overarching message or concrete conclusion.’ Luiselli responded: “I don’t believe in the ‘grand finale.’ I hate Wagner.” This may tell you all you need to know about Faces In The Crowd. There is nothing certain except a resolute and unwavering uncertainty and there are leaps, unspoken, blank spaces, that fill with other equally as nebulous things. Three first-person narratives lean into and then collapse upon each other. A mother cares for her two children, one of which has invented a ghost; a younger translator becomes obsessed with an obscure poet’s work and slips in and out of different homes; and many decades before either mother or translator, the poet the translator is obsessed with, journeys to see his children and ex-wife. Though the voices are distinct, they are also woven into a chorus that increasingly speaks not only to each other but also to the reader, to a larger world full of ideas. Three cats and a dead plant and a train slide through time and lives, appearing over the decades spanned, in lives seeming separate and yet, not. It is a tribute to the translation, that the book for all its inherent slippage is relentlessly clear and gleaming line-to-line. I had the distinct sense of floating along in a boat constructed from Luiselli’s language along the placid surface of her ideas, all of which seethed and soothed and moved below, clearly visible from above. The portals present in language, across languages, in the gappiness of time, the porous nature of the self, of place, is all living here, but also there, such as when Luiselli writes and MacSweeney translates (another layer!): “I told him I’d turned into a ghost; or maybe that I was the only living girl in a city of ghosts; that, in any case, I didn’t like dying all the time . . . I could have told him I was going because I was incapable of sustaining and inhabiting the worlds I myself had fabricated, that I also had a scar splitting my face in two.”

‘I felt that my mind was packed with sounds - the voices on buses and trains, the noises in planes and ships, the sound of domestic disputes, insults, abuse, the whistle of bullets, shouting, screaming, weeping, the chants of environmental protestors. Applause at the Peace Prize award ceremony at a time when new wars are breaking out in new hotspots, the sound of cars crashing, car bombs exploding, the cars of thieves, an ambulance, a bank truck loaded with bundles of banknotes, a fire engine. The sounds of mosques and churches, of Friday sermons and homilies, of group sex and glass breaking, sounds coming in the right ear and sounds going out the left ear. If we were deaf creatures...perhaps the world would be less painful.’



Marvelling over the Iraqi writer Hassan Blasim’s stories again, which I’m teaching this week. Unbelievably dark but never without a tinge of black humour. And how about this passage! I especially appreciated the dig at the Nobel Peace Prize - there is often so much hypocrisy in such endeavours, as Blasim’s brief reference pointedly indicates.
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today was the day to finish There There & finish Faces In The Crowd & keep going through Flights which I read mostly at night or in contemplative spaces like today when even though it is past noon the light still hasn’t won and the grey glooms over everything & Flights with its wandering, its spiraling, its loose linking reads like meditation, its headings slipping like beads on a chain, “... Benedictus, Qui Venit... Panopticon... Kunicki: Water (II)... Everywhere And Nowhere,” so such is Sunday’s psalms.

self-prescribing this antidote to my post-tropical blues

‘Tell me, please, what is wrong with being poor and in need?’



Hage’s novel follows an unnamed immigrant from the Middle East (his origins are not specified but there are enough clues to assume it’s Lebanon, where Hage himself grew up during the civil war). He lives as an exile in Montreal, affected by the cold and his isolation and haunted by what happened to his family back home. Both an unsettling, disturbed character as well as someone who you root for, the narrator is complexly rendered, which is a testament to Hage’s skill as a novelist.
What I also found compelling was the narrator’s attachment to cockroaches and his belief that he ultimately is one. This could so easily have not worked - and writing it down here makes me realise how dubious it sounds. But there are so many different ways of interpreting the sections about the cockroach - from a surrealist element of the novel, to a hallucination on the narrator’s part. Furthermore, given western societies’ mistreatment of migrants and the callous and dehumanised ways in which they are often depicted, the figure of the cockroach also carries an ethical imperative.
I admired, too, Hage’s determination to scrutinise what makes a city like Montreal so rich, in this case the military industrial complex that ultimately wreaks havoc on the countries that the narrator and his fellow immigrant friends are from. This is such an important point because it offers a reminder of the insidious connections between states that far too often are ignored. The UK’s arms deals with Saudi Arabia comes to mind as another recent example. These connections show us that the lives of ordinary people are far less important than profit for the powerful. Hage’s novel makes this point so effectively.
Such a brilliant book that deserves many more readers.
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there’s a rainbow and the ocean and I am here, reading this, & everything feels endless and stretched out and taffy on a wire of blue on blue on blue on blue

Right now, I’m in a place very unlike my home. It is warm and tropical and so insanely green, and everywhere the earth heaves with language I don’t normally see, coming from a vernacular of ice and snow and deep freeze. And yet how good it is to hear the world in a different way. And all this to say, a few weeks ago I was reading reviews on Amazon for a book that is in no way obscure. It’s New York Times bestselling, and front facing in most bookstores. It’s also in translation. This review’s title was, ‘I’m so glad I didn’t realize this book was translated,’ and the first line of the review read, “Normally, I would discount a book that has been translated without thought, so I’m so glad when I started reading this book I didn’t know it was in translation or else I would have missed out on my favourite book this year.” I stared at this review for a long while. And then I picked up one of the books I am reading now that is obscure, perhaps, but (People In The Room) is so vital and life giving and intelligent and yes in translation & I wrote down what I wish went without saying, which is there is a world of books that the exhaustive work of translators brings to us that don’t speak those languages and these books written in languages you or I don’t speak are vibrant and thoughtful and necessary and rife with what we don’t know because we do not have that linguistic lens that worldview that history and how good that is, how deeply I crave that, how glad I am of translators’ work despite “discount…without thought,” how glad I am for presses publishing books in other languages and this little corner of the Internet where we can continue to read and thrive and survive, in our language and in others’, how glad I am for all the voices I encounter, how necessary that we are all not of the same tongue, not encountering only the words we live inside, but rather seeking, reveling, accounting for with thought the seething world of translation that we can encounter. How glad I am the world is there to be read.

‘I was hungry. And I had little money left. So it was time to find the Iranian musician by the name of Reza who owed me forty dollars. I was determined to collect and I was losing my patience with that bastard. I was even contemplating breaking his santour if he did not pay me back soon. He hung out at the Artista Café, the one at the corner. It is open twenty-four hours a day, and for twenty-four hours it collects smoke pumped out by the lungs of fresh immigrants lingering on plastic chairs, elbows drilling the round tables, hands flagging their complaints, tobacco-stained fingers summoning the waiters, their matches, like Indian signals, ablaze under hairy noses, and their stupefied faces exhaling cigarette fumes with the intensity of Spanish bulls on a last charge towards a dancing red cloth.’



Now reading the Lebanese writer Rawi Hage’s novel Cockroach, which follows an unnamed narrator as he struggles to survive as an immigrant in Canada. Damn I admire his prose. THAT LAST SENTENCE 🖤
Fun fact: Hage is the longtime partner of Madeleine Thien, whose novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing I absolutely adored when I read it this summer.
Has anyone else read Hage’s work? I fear he’s not as well known as he should be.
I hope everyone has a lovely weekend!
#ReadingOutsideTheBox



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two days away from a school break (YAY) & already amassing my holiday book list (not pictured the 12 other books I am optimistically packing because I suffer from ‘what if I get caught in a situation without a book?’)

My first book purchase in Beirut. I have Maalouf’s Samarkand at home and have promised to read it many times. I hope this trip to Lebanon will motivate me to read at least one of his books - The Gardens of Light sounds very much like my thing, considering the historic period it covers. I’m currently working my way through a book of Lebanese history, very much hoping to finish it in the coming days, but it demands concentration. #bookoftheday #aminmaalouf #thegardensoflight #lebaneseliterature #beirut #readingoutsidethebox #currentlyreading #historicalfiction #raamatud #bookstagram

‘Miguel now realised that there was something terrifying about the loneliness of immigration, a kind of descent into a void, a tunnel of shadows that warped reality. Kenza had let herself be caught in the maze, and Azel, well, he had gone desperately wrong. Exile revealed the true dimensions of calamity.’



There’s a lot I admired about Leaving Tangier. The central narrative of the Moroccan siblings, Azel and Kenza, and how they cope as immigrants in Spain is compelling. Ben Jelloun’s decision to include a broad range of minor characters also worked really well because each of their stories contributes to the bigger picture of migration and the dreams people have of a better life elsewhere. The themes of corruption, power and sexuality are all placed front and centre, giving the novel an intensity and rawness that it rarely lets go of.
There were moments when the novel felt a little rushed - perhaps inevitable when there are so many characters to follow - and slightly too often, the author tells as opposed to shows what he means. This made it a little too didactic for my liking. But the overall ambition of the novel and the important moral questions it raises means that I’ll definitely read more of Ben Jelloun’s work in the future.
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faces in the crowd, a book in the sun: me, ignoring what must be done (alternatively, Saturday)

‘Leaving the country. It was an obsession, a kind of madness that ate at him day and night: how could he get out, how could he escape this humiliation? Leaving, abandoning this land that wants nothing more to do with its children, turning your back on such a beautiful country to return one day, proudly, perhaps as a rich man: leaving to save your life, even as you risk losing it...He thought it all over and couldn’t understand how he’d reached such a point. The obsession quickly became a curse: he felt persecuted, damned, possessed by the will to survive, emerging from a tunnel only to run into a wall.’



Now reading Leaving Tangier, which tells the story of a brother and sister both desperate to leave Morocco for the chance of a better life in Spain. I’ve been reading quite a bit about Morocco’s relationship with Spain (because I’m teaching this soon) and it’s a relationship that says so much about borders, European colonialism, racial politics and power. The more I read, the more I want to know!
Has anyone else read any of Tahar Ben Jelloun’s work? What are your thoughts?
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