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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六四。三十一。

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Berliner Mauerweg: Teltow Kanal and Ehemalige Autobahnbrücke Dreilinden

I’ve ridden over that bridge many times, the last in the damp grey drizzle on Tag der Deutschen Einheit when I totally over-extended myself (seems to be a theme?). This is the first time I’ve seen it from this direction, coming along the very sandy, loose, dusty and full of exposed roots single track from Schleuse Kleinmachnow. One of my favourite parts of the Mauerweg and in general to ride and eventually I’ll stitch together a whole — multiple whole routes from those glorious cobbles up Rudower Straße all the way to those cobbles up Wannseestraße. Simple pleasures involve getting thrashed on cobbles and slithering around on single track.

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Berliner Mauerweg: Friederikenhofstraße North to Großwohnsiedlung Waldsassener Strasse

It was way more bright yellow and intense blue. And that’s not a small house on the prairie, that’s a very large apartment block over the horizon.

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Berliner Mauerweg: Forest on Ziethener Straße near Mahlower Seegraben

Another Sunday another practicing of Physical Distancing.

After the last weeks’ fun, I wanted to find some lanes and tracks like the ones around Groß- and Kleinziethen and Friederikenhof. Failed spectacularly. Apparently Großbeeren is the drain I circulate around and end up in fun places like Neubeeren or on the drag through Ruhlsdorf to Teltow.

The first third was a joy, hitting cobbles at 30+km/h obviously, and there’s so many new cobbles to be found (Keplerstr and around thank you very much), and new lanes and single track and generally incredibly pretty and very empty of people, and for some reason the people around there are reliably friendly. The second third was mostly a mess riding on 70km/h roads through industrial parks and joyless towns like Teltow. But! I knew the canal was nearby and kept veering right into the forest when it finally appeared and I knew I was more or less back on track and found the most glorious, incredibly sandy single track running from Scheus Kleinmachnow all the way to the Ehemalige Autobahnbrücke Dreilinden, putting me back for a moment on the Berliner Mauerweg. As one old German woman out for a stroll with her husband said, “Ha ha it’s like a sea! A sea of sand!” as I skidded and slid in all directions on tires and tire pressure very much not for sand.

More cobbles and the truly brutal short climb up Wannseestraße, then more (non-cobble) suffering up and down Nikolskoer Weg and Pfauenininselchausee the roads getting busier all the time with very distinctly not ‘social distancing’ and finally onto the most boring part of the ride, which road cyclists love, which proves they are a boring and unimaginative bunch, the blandness of Königstraße followed by the monotonous straightness through Grünewald. There was an utter mob on Spanische Allee outside AVUS-Treff Spinner-Brücke, hundreds of all-white bros in black leather on their garbage wagon Harleys doing the same white trash shit as their brethren in the US, strutting their ‘right’ to gather and super-spread while the cops looked on doing nothing in the way they always do when it’s right wing white people they’re being ordered to police.

And the ride back into the city, hitting every red light because the lights are timed for cars moving at fifty and not bikes moving at any speed less. I over-extended myself a bit and defo was feeling it when I got home, even with all the liquid and rice cakes I took. And this might be my last long ride for a while because here comes Ramadan which, like always, I never know if I’ll do until it’s done.

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Berliner Mauerweg: Ziethener Straße near S-Bahn

Practicing Physical Distancing again, Part 2. On the sandy old road of Ziethener Straße that becomes a very sandy, frictionless slide of singletrack running parallel to the S-Bahn on the way back to my happy place, those 1200 metres of cobbles along Mozart and Petkusser Straßen. I was having a very good time here, and my only other thought was, “One bidon of electrolyte and a banana is slightly on the thin side for three hours.”

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Berliner Mauerweg: Ziethener Straße near Mahlower Seegraben

Practicing Physical Distancing again by going for a ride south of the Berliner Mauerweg ’cos it was getting like an outdoor festival along that stretch. Like the virus takes Easter off ’cos, “I respect Jesus when he’s harrowing Hell. Also, bunnies!”?

Plan for the day was around 60 kilometres of riding, following the Mauerweg all the way to the Canal in Lichterfelde and then reversing, mainly ’cos I like riding the roads and trails around Großziethen and want to explore them more, and ’cos the thought of hitting the Mozartstraße cobbles twice. Twice! Today would have been Paris-Roubaix and on the Sunday in Hell we worship cobbles. Plan got bailed on at Marienfelder Allee. I’d already been thinking of finding an alternate route back with all the people, but crossing that highway, both sides of the street lined with people on bikes all jammed up together. 0/10 partaking in that wilful stupidity.

South then, which I kinda know, ’cos I rode through Großbeeren a couple of times before, and was all, “I know here, I think I got lost here,” and fanging eastwards at Frederikenhof (which is on the opposite side of the fields I photographed last week), and riding the prettiest old roads and trails, heading back to those cobbles. There’s another photo, saving that for the next post, just before I turned north on the so sandy it’s a beach without the ocean singletrack, going parallel to the S-Bahn. Much slippy slidey and nearly kissing the floor once. Very wrong tires and tire pressure for that kind of fun. Still fun.

Those cobbles again, hitting them at speed, in the big ring and in a slightly harder gear and just floating over them. Very vibrational floating, but ooh yeah does cobbles riding come alive when you’re going fast. And then on to Kleinziethen (near Großziethen, duh!), and finding the way back to Rudow I’d meant to ride out on. More pretty roads and turning onto Rudower Straße, hitting 3 kilometres of tiny cobbles. I could have ridden the asphalt bike path, or the asphalt bike strip on the shoulder. No, I couldn’t. Bit of a killer in the end, just on and on and getting drained and it was a warm sunny day also, not my ideal riding weather at all, and by the time I was hauling down Neuköllner / Rudower Str. / Buschkrugallee / Karl-Marx-Str. I was feeling it. Not feeling it so much I couldn’t destroy a bro on a fancy gravel bike who tried to chick me at every set of lights from Rudow to Teltow Kanal. Every set of lights. And started shouting at me ’cos apparently chick going faster than bro make bro sadangry? And by ‘destroy’ I mean kept the same pace I’d been on the whole time. Okay, a tiiiny bit extra pace. I’m petty like that.

And photo. Physical Distancing. You may be able to see some people in the distance.

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Berliner Mauerweg: Fields West of Lichtenrade

Part three of practicing Physical Distancing by going for a ride along the Berliner Mauerweg.

This photo is never going to do justice to the insane yellow-green of the fields, or the empty flat expanse, and if you look really really really close, you’ll see a few people wandering out in it. This was just before I turned off the Mauerweg and took a guess at how to get back to Neukölln. Favourite way of riding, that. So long as the sun was more-or-less behind me, I was going home. My bike’s in truly terrible condition these days, two years now since the last rebuild and I’ve done something like 12,000 kilometres and some of the components have done way more than that. But it’s amazing how it just keeps going (until it doesn’t hahahaha not funny when I’m in the middle of nowhere).

Yes, this is work. I’m still a dancer, and doing ballet barre at home and all the yoga and core and other work is part of it, but doing this kind of physical labour is necessary for me. It feels like after more than twenty years of this, if I stop I’ll fall apart. And I’m very aware of the luxury I have (despite being poor and all the other caveats) to do this, now especially. Let’s talk about Gaza, or white French doctors proposing testing Coronavirus vaccines in Africa, and casually dehumanising a whole continent in the same sentence they do the same to sex workers. Or the massive increase in racism, Islamophobia and Asianphobia (dunno if that’s quite a word but it’s defo a thing), simultaneous with governments pushing through anti-transgender legislation and utterly destroying the arts.

I loved biking through and around Großziethen for the third time in as many weeks and loved seeing so many Muslimah women and families out there. I feel very much calmer getting into Brandenburg seeing them and knowing it’s not all Naziland like Zeuthen was when I last biked that scary town. And as I came back into Neukölln, I saw gangs of cops out, five or six of them at a time, all white, all in stab-proof vests and heavy gear, and all of them doing the intimidation act and harassing brown boys. Yeah, don’t think we haven’t seen that fuckery get dialled up in every country in the last few weeks. It was a good ride, but it’s never not political like this. Every time I go out, it’s political.

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Berliner Mauerweg: Mozartstraße Cobbles

Part two of practicing Physical Distancing by going for a ride along the Berliner Mauerweg.

Going clockwise from Neukölln, it’s all pretty cushy up till Lichtenrade – the whole Mauerweg is pretty cushy, just the distance and very varied surfaces. Around Lichtenrade is the first (optional but not really ’cos we’re here for it) single-track, hard-packed sandy earth alongside fields, shortly after which rail lines cut the Weg and it’s a two-ish kilometre detour into the very pretty and very expensive-looking, most southern suburb of Berlin, along some of the roughest cobbles I’ve ever had the pleasure of being pounded in the arse by. (Hands are not so thrilled with the pounding, but suck it up, hands.)

It’s quite difficult in a photo to make cobbles look as gnarly as they really are, and this final section, looking back up Mozartstraße. from the corner of Beethovenstraße is the smoothest of the lot. And maybe I’ve been riding cobbles so much that I’ve got used to them and know how to ride them, and my memory is more of the thrashing I received the first time than how far from flat and smooth they really are. Anyway, I always wanted to photograph them to remember how much fun I have on them. And every time I hit some cobbles I think there should be a Spring Classic in Berlin, touring the cobbles. This lot would be in, the brutal cobble hill on Wannseestraße by Griebnitzsee also, and the hilariously rough and slippery and corner-y and defo scary when it’s wet and there’s any velocity involved Jägersteig in the forest of Waldgelände Frohnau at the far north of Berlin. Cobbles. Better than asphalt.

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Berliner Mauerweg: Dörferblick from Schönefelder Weg

Practicing Physical Distancing again. I needed to get out of my apartment, out of Neukölln, out of the city, do some riding, riding until I forget to think (takes at least 45 minutes), not hard riding (which is what Tempelhofer Feld so easily becomes, round and round, pushing pushing).

I got up early with not enough sleep to get to the supermarket before it got too hectic, same young guy working physical distancing out front, stupid white dude inside taking ‘me in mask in the vegetable section’ selfies, holding everyone up. Cannot imagine bro is any kind of influencer. Third week of no toilet paper in any of my usual supermarkets, one said, “Ja, not for another two weeks,” me getting fancy with shower bidet these days. No pasta or beans either.

It took me a couple of hours to get motivated to do the riding, starting again with the dead nice cobbles on Neukölln side-streets as I headed east, then onto the Berliner Mauerweg, which was sort of busier than last week but more spread out, a few stupid white dudes on bikes going way too fast through busy areas or blowing snot from their nose, and then it all quietened down when I went off on a track I’ve never been before, turning left at Dörferblick instead of right, and vaguely heading for Großziethen. That’s part one, anyway, spring in Brandenburg, blue skies after months of grey and damp and cold.