Another Pile of Books I’m Reading in the Second Half of 2020

It’s been a while. I didn’t have any spare cash for a bit, then I had slightly too much (as far as the Finanzamt is concerned), and then I realised I’d decided not to blog for a few weeks (thanks pandemic and enragingly piss poor response by Berlin, Germany, Europe, and so very very many str8wyt men in all those places), and now see me trying to make an effort like showing up for the exam and everyone knows I didn’t do the work.

Yallah, a pile of books I’m reading (pretending to read) in the second half of 2020, to which I’ll add another pile because I dunno, not enough money to buy anything substantial but just enough to incur a hefty tax bill if I don’t spend it. Weird how poverty is emplaced through institutional, structural and legislative punishment.

All the poetry, and I do mean all the poetry is entirely because of Omar Sakr. Him and Sunny Singh (of the Jhalak Prize) on Twitter are responsible for a large chunk of my reading, whether directly or retweeting interesting people who turn out to be writers and poets.

So, Aria Aber’s Hard Damage, Ellen Van Neerven’s Throat, Sue Hyon Bae’s Truce Country, all poetry that moves me. It still feels odd to be reading poetry, though it’s been a year since Sakr’s The Lost Arabs and Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan’s Postcolonial Banter — just a year! Feels heaps longer. Yeah, poetry is hitting me right.

Also poetry, semi-poetry, poetry-ish, with a history in a festival, Rachel De-Lahay’s My White Best Friend: (And Other Letters Left Unsaid), mainly because I read anything with Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan in it.

Continuing the theme of books recommended by other authors, or cited in their bibliographies. Olivette Otele’s African Europeans: An Untold History, which I already blogged, but these six-monthly book dumps seem to deserve all the books. No idea where I heard about this, but either Twitter authors or one of the blogs I read. And from that, Geraldine Heng’s The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages. Real-time internet archaeology as I write here, I likely read about both on In the Middle, the medieval studies blog, where, on Monday, Geraldine Heng responded to the hit-piece on her and this book.

Which reminded me of the double bind I periodically find myself in. The first time I personally experienced it was with JT LeRoy, who I read in the early-’00s and thought was a trans femme who I could relate to. Turned out JT only existed as a fiction of a white, cis woman, and she’s still making a profit and career off our lives. Funny how consequences slide off them like teflon. More recently it was Medieval PoC – who I used to contribute photographs of Black and Brown people in art when I was on my museum bender – and a deeply messy history going back years of her claiming Native, Roma, and other ancestry. And this year it’s been a regular feast of white cis women in academia and the arts getting sprung for building their careers on false claims of BIPoC ancestry. On the other side of the double bind, it’s white supremacy trying to flip medieval European history to its own agenda, and a ceaseless barrage of racism, misogyny, transphobia, and all the other shit against cis and trans BIPoC authors, academics, artists, very regularly from white, cis women in academia and the arts, like the 46-page (!!!) hit-piece Heng responds to.

I mean, I just wanna read books and have a good time and learn shit and be amazed and generally chill the fuck out with a bunch of words and instead it’s white people colouring up or white people doing hit jobs.

Last couple in the non-fiction pile, then. Peta Stephenson’s The Outsiders Within: Telling Australia’s Indigenous-Asian Story. The one she wrote before Islam Dreaming: Indigenous Muslims in Australia, which it turns out I may not have blogged either. That latter was a big one for me. And keeping on the Islam history thing, John M. Steele’s A Brief Introduction to Astronomy in the Middle East, recommended to me by Dr. Danielle Kira Adams of Lowell Observatory, and responsible for Two Deserts, One Sky — Arab Star Calendars (novel research things there).

Fiction, then. Science-fiction mostly. Becky Chambers, who I’ve been reading for the last few years and pretty content at the moment in reading another one from her, To Be Taught, If Fortunate. Another also from Charles Stross, Dead Lies Dreaming, though after fifteen years this might be the last I read from him, just not really doing it for me and the trans character is very written by a cis. Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth, which I’ve already read, and the sequel Harrow the Ninth, which I’m currently reading / wading through it’s corpsey gore. Claire G. Coleman’s Terra Nullius, Indigetrans colonial invasion sci-fi but not really sci-fi. And speaking of trans, Juno Dawson’s Wonderland, which I kinda liked but wished the literary fixation on Alice in Wonderland stories didn’t exist (same like I wish dance fixation on ‘reimagining’ Swan Lake and the classics didn’t exist).

Lucky last. Fiction but more like Chingona autobiography ghost story, Myriam Gurba’s Mean. Recommended to me by Vass. Thanks babe, she’s fucking with me.

That’s a lot, eh. Piling up, getting partly read then left, words look smaller than they used to and I need glasses but that means organising shit like ophthalmologist appointments and shelling out cash and fuck it I can squint. Though I wonder if the reason why I’m not reading as much as I used to is ’cos words in book form’s blurry all the time.

Damn. Turns out I’ve been pronouncing and spelling…

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Damn. Turns out I’ve been pronouncing and spelling “demonstrably” wrong for a very long time. It’s not “demonstratably”, chica, couple too many t’s and a’s there.

Some time later realised I missed an oppo to make a joke about me loving T&A getting in the way of spelling 🤦🏻‍♀️

Reading: Olivette Otele — African Europeans: An Untold History

The only thing I’m not enjoying about this book is its high expectations on my reading list. Twenty pages in and I’ve ordered four books mentioned in the notes.

Where did I hear about Olivette Otele’s African Europeans: An Untold History? No idea. Maybe someone on Twitter, or, more likely what I’d been reading circulates around this subject and one of the authors mentioned it.

Obviously very much here for her writing on Saint Mauritius, and shoutout to Dom zu Magdeburg St. Mauritius und Katharina and that statue of him. And for the bibliography, ’cos there’s been a heap of new stuff specifically on Germany / German-ish regional history that is totes my jam. Probably going to be one of my Books of the Year. If I was still doing that. And it’s making me miss my rando trips to small German cities to gawp at mediæval art something huge.

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Gideon the Ninth Fukken Metal as Fuck Yeah

“These two cunts are fully harden the fuck up, cunt.”
“Which two cunts, Chica?”
“Gideon and her hate crush Harrow.”
“Sounds sikk. Tell me more.”
“Lezzie dyke undying necromancer gothic space opera horror?”
“10/10 would nonverbal consent.”
“’Member in Iain Banks’ The Algebraist?”
“Iain wiv an M. Banks?”
“The one. Again and always.”
“Wif the creepy but kinda sexy in a bad extra way one wot had diamonds for teeth?”
“Yup. Archimandrite Luseferous.”
“Yup, and?”
“And ’member Ancillary Justice?”
“Ann Leckie who was your safe space when our Iain got indisposed on account of being dead?”
“Am still grieving an’ yup.”
“An’ you were like, if someone wrote a whole novel from the perspective of that toothy psycho and his Starveling Cult, plus pronouns and tea, that’d be Imperial Radch?”
“Pretty much.”
“Orrite, and?”
“Well Gideon the Ninth is like all of that plus Norwegian Black Metal corpse paint.”
“Hectic as.”
“Fully.”
“Goes to eleven?”
“Goes to 666.”
“None More Black?”
“None More Black, Chica.”
“Oooo!”
“Wot then?”
“Forgot. Gideon the Ninth is like all of that plus Norwegian Black Metal corpse paint plus …”
“Plus what?”
Oglaf!
“Sithrak! Cumsprite!”
“Sluts!”
“An’ who is the sharp cunt wot wrote it?”
“That’d be Tamsyn Muir. An’ she comes from Aotearoa.”
“Proper good. An’ who did that cover, ’cos a) that’s metal as fuck and b) cunt can destroy my bones any day or night.”
“That’d be Tommy Arnold and fukken fuck yeah.”
“And you’re smashing it?”
“Very much so.”
“And what else? You gonna tell me there’s a sequel?”
“Fukken sequel!”
“Siiikk! What’s it called?”
Harrow the Ninth!”
“An’ have you ordered it yet?”
“I’m a tardy bint.”
“Get your shit together. Tell me a truth moment, Chica.”
“Hit me.”
“You finished it yet? Did it stick the landing?”
“Nah not yet. But if page 357 was the end, landing was totes stuck. Right horrorshow.”
“High praise from an intolerant cunt.”
“All that.”
“New fave author?”
“Read me to filth there.”
“Anything else?”
“Well obvz I want Gideon to be a righteous trans femme, ’cos I’m simple like that. Book of the Year in any case, not that I’m doing that anymore, but still, that’s where it’s at.”

A Pile of New Books I’m Reading so far in 2020 (and late-2019)

There was a big gap this year when I had a little money for and no way of getting books. All that talk on social media of supporting artists during pandemic quarantine by buying their books hit up against furloughed supply chains.

Completely off topic here, I discovered yesterday I’d been using the entirely wrong word, furlong instead of furlough (and lifetime usage of either is in the single digits). And then I discovered furlong is 1/8th of a mile, so now I have Vin Diesel, or rather Dominic Toretto in my head going, “I live my life two furlongs at a time.”

Back to buying books. And no, e-books are not an option. I like paper, I like the feel and smell and aesthetics of books, I like how line lengths, page size, fonts, typography, layout, margins, the density of ink on paper, all that, I like how it creates a specific way of reading. So, no new books for some months and a rapidly dwindling pile of that variety which take months or years to read (Spivak, I’m looking at you.)

And then my favourite bookshop let me know books were available again and damn did I go hard. First, the Jhalak Prize announced its 2020 long and short lists and the winner, and I’m doing that thing again where I’ll end up throwing cash at about half the long list.

What is the Jhalak Prize (’cos clicking links scares me or something)? It was started in 2017 by Sunny Singh, Nikesh Shukla, and the sadly defunct Media Diversified and is an annual award for British and British resident writers of colour in any genre. And it’s consistently a banger. If I had the cash, I would without question by everything on the long list as soon as it’s announced.

And second, a bunch of weird old books I’ve been hitting my bookshop up for availability and prices for absolutely years turned up. A couple I’ve been asking about for five years. No, I cannot say no.

Some of these books have been sitting on my reading shelf since last year; some of them I finished months ago. I’m not doing that way too intense essay per book and annual Book(s) of The Year thing anymore, pumped the brakes on that. I still want to remind myself and celebrate a pile of authors who, all of whom did that indescribable magic a book can do. Some of these (’cos that’s my tendency) are hard, painful reads. Even these have beauty and joy and hope in them, and I reach for that. All these authors are my teachers and I’m grateful beyond words to have enough space in my life that I can read and appreciate and celebrate them.

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‘I know the Muslim religion by how [my grandpare…

‘I know the Muslim religion by how [my grandparents] reacted and how they did things, so all [my knowledge] is from seeing and hearing; I knew nothing about the Qu’ran or anything. All I know is that my grandparents were Muslims, and this is how they behaved and what their belief system was.’

[…]

Evidently, kin-based identification of this kind differs sharply from that associated with the formal embrace of the tenets of Islam. Based on cultural affiliation rather than a dramatic spiritual transformation, it represents a form of identification that sociological studies of conversion rarely recognise. In the context of the long, tangled history of Indigenous exposure to Islam this is particularly unfortunate as it has the effect of devaluing that historical association. In contrast with conversion – which at least in its classical formulation involves turning one’s back on the past – kinversion is an act of turning towards the family history and respecting the memory of the ancestors. It is, among other things, the phenomenon widespread among people of Indigenous-Muslim descent of invoking Islam as a marker of family continuity and identity. An identification with Islamic values that is not formal but familial is the result of long-term and widespread contact between Muslims (almost invariably men) and those (almost entirely women) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background. To invoke the term is to resist the dehistoricisation of the Indigenous-Islamic experience and to remind ourselves of its persistence across generations, genders and state boundaries.

Islam Dreaming — Indigenous Muslims in Australia, Peta Stephenson

I had Islam Dreaming on my list for a long time and suddenly it turned up. I didn't expect it to be so personally relevant, to read these pages and how simply and matter-of-fact this relationship was understood. It's something I've struggled to understand for myself for so long, and once again, it's Indigenous knowledge and life that helped. Different continents and I'm not Indigenous Australian, and trying to be careful here in not selectively appropriating a specific historical and geographic experience. I read these two pages over and over, recognising similarities to myself and my family's history in this.

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Half-Way Iftar With Accompanying Reading

Yes, I ate all that. In retrospect, slightly heavy on the greens.

Our Women on the Ground would likely be my Book of the Year if I was still doing that.

Ramadan’s been frankly brutal this year. I do it because I want to and I enjoy being reminded of part of my family and history I know almost nothing about, but with the pandemic and all the accompanying stress (thanks white supremacists in all your forms) I just wanna sleep through the next two weeks.

Sometimes trans femme queer immigrant multiethnic neurodiverse self-love is a real hard one to do alone.

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In the end, white women’s work for massive resista…

In the end, white women’s work for massive resistance illuminated just how ubiquitous and enduringly seductive the politics of white supremacy remained decade after decade. Shaping ideas of sex, marriage, and motherhood as well as those about property rights, school curriculum, elections, and culture, legislation was never enough to sustain a Jim Crow South or nation, nor was it enough to destroy it. In the face of legislative defeat, segregationist women continued to craft a broader politics of white supremacy. The deep roots they had long nurtured continued to bear this particularly enduring and familiar fruit. Local politics and politics that continue to frustrate the quest for equality and the entrenched stories that shape American attitudes toward racial change have persisted and have made way for new ones. Grounded in such deep and fertile political soil, the politics of white supremacy and segregationist women who made it so remain a powerful force in American politics. Where they live and where they work is the ground that still remains contested.

Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy, Elizabeth Gillespie McRae

While reading Elizabeth Gillespie McRae’s Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy, I was continually reminded of the photo of Angela Peoples at the Women's March in 2017, holding a sign saying, “Don’t forget: White Women Voted for Trump”. The resistance by white people, especially white women and white mothers, to the unequivocal truth of the disparity between who they voted for and who Black, Latinx, Asian and everyone else voted for remains, not just in the US but everywhere white supremacy never went away: Australia, Canada, UK, Germany, across Europe, and elsewhere. “Their white motherhood meant teaching their children lessons in racial distance, in a racially determined place in society, and in white supremacy.” (p.237; quote above p. 240)

Reading: Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan — Postcolonial Banter

I cried the first time I saw Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan read This is not a humanising poem. And every time since. And when I read it just now because I wanted to quote it. Every time since the first I know what’s coming, and I tell myself, “Nah, I’m good, it’s not going to hit me like I remember it did,” I’ve got immunity now, I’ve read it so many times now, so, nah, not this time, silly, not this time. Every time.

Probably Twitter. Probably Omar J. Sakr, probably Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff. Probably that moment when science-fiction and fantasy had disappointed me again, not having the range, the political, social, personal, religious, aesthetic range, and finding that, so unexpectedly, in poets.

A conversation, outside my local café on Sonnenallee, talking political authors and all:
“D’ya know … ah shit, I forget her name, poet, Muslim, London, The Brown Hijabi?”
“Which one?”
“… ah, no, that’s the name she uses, The Brown Hijabi.”
“… Oh.”
“Yeah, anyway, she’s got a book coming out, forget what it’s called also. You should read it though.”

Postcolonial Banter. It’s her first collection of poetry. I love it. I love her. Alhamdulillah.

Reading: Elizabeth Gillespie McRae — Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy

Pertinent reading for the turn of the decade — the turn of any decade in the last few hundred years. Elizabeth Gillespie McRae’s Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy came to me from I have no idea where, early last year. My ‘Want to Buy’ list is mad out of control, and taking 18 months for a book to circulate up to getting ordered is quick. I’m presuming it turned up in my RSS feed, or maybe Twitter shortly before I bailed from there.

I play this game when I’m reading histories of racial segregation. It doesn’t have a name, and it’s quite simple. It’s a ‘What if’ game and goes like this: ‘What if my dad or his parents lived there?’ How would or could their lives be shaped and changed by the laws and regulations at that place and that time? What might they be categorised as? I am reminded every time I play how conditional and tenuous ‘race’ is, how arbitrary the race line is, how those tenuous and arbitrary demarcations of where the line falls determine even if they could have married at all. And if they did, and if then my parents could — for the same reasons — the possibilities for life stop with me. White supremacy is, after all, bound at its root with reproductive heteronormativity and the eugenicist-defined ‘health of the White race’.

Around the time I saw the exhibition, Deutscher Kolonialismus: Fragmente Seiner Geschichte Und Gegenwart, and while Germany was (and is) moving through its unfinished history with Namibia, I noticed the burden of proof that genocide had occurred always rested on the victims. Again, conditional, arbitrary. Namibia (then German South-West Africa): genocide; German East Africa: (now Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania), merely subduing of an uprising. If we accept the fact that the aim of European colonialism was to divide the entire globe amongst itself (clearly seen in its late-19th century form of the Berlin Conference dividing up Africa), we must also agree that two fundamental tools or strategies in that were (and are) race and genocide. Eugen Fischer, who was there in German South-West Africa, later with the Nazis, whose ideology shaped the Nuremberg Laws, said of genocide, “whoever thinks thoroughly the notion of race, can not arrive at a different conclusion”. Wherever colonialism happened, so too did genocide.

And after the Second World War, after anti-colonialist movements, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Iron Curtain, the End of History and all that, we didn’t magically cease to live in a racist, genocidal, white supremacist world. That should have been self-evident before the events of the last few years, and arguing this is again an instance of burden of proof falling on the victims.

While this book deals with a narrow time period and geographical context (primarily 1920s–1960s and the Jim Crow South; broadly the US), nonetheless the role of white, cisgender, heteronormative women in collectively and individually creating, enforcing, and adapting racial segregation is something we’ve seen continuously, around the globe, without pause, right up to the UK election result on Thursday. Whatever racist, colonialist, genocidal (and we’re talking about planetary scale genocide these days) white supremacist fuckery the straight white men who run shit get off on, it’s their women who, in all the little, everyday ways, from home to school to communities to government offices who make it happen.

This wasn’t meant to be a review or compilation of opinions, it’s a Sunday, I haven’t blogged for a while, I have a pile of books that Panda bought (Panda unilaterally does the buying, I get the leftovers, Panda is mad educated), and I’m thinking through a large piece of fiction I’m writing of which books like this are extremely pertinent. It’s the kind of book I say, “Read it if you can, then find and read the comparable books from where you live,” keeping in mind my own global history as a product and result of colonialism.