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A Pile of Books I Read in 2021

Some I didn’t finish, some I didn’t start, some I’m reading by proximity until I get on to turning pages, some keep getting started and left when something I want to read immediately comes along, some just take me forever to finish.

Semi-alphabetically and fiction first (and I’m very out of practice with writing about what I’m reading):

Ben Aaronovitch is the not-TERF white dude writing actually good magical fantasy set in London. Yah, the main character is a cop and my current rule is “don’t engage with new stories if they humanise the piggos,” but I’ve been reading the series since 2017 when Gala slipped me one. What Abigail Did Last Summer is more Young Adult or whatever it gets called but my reading level is, “This. This I can read.’ I have the upcoming one on order, and that’s how I am with Ben.

More sci-fi with Charlie Jane Anders, and Victories Greater the Death is her best ever? I think so. Not enjoying waiting for the sequel though. Am enjoying the thought of it turned into a live-action series (movie?) with Wakanda’s own Michael B. Jordan.

I have been thinking about how many white trans femme or trans women authors and writers are about at the moment, how much media attention they’re getting (good attention, especially in traditional media; not talking TERF attention here), and how on Twitter (’cos that’s where the writers congregate) there’s a heap of interaction and interlinking between white trans women. And I’m wondering where all the Indigenous, Black, Blak, Brown trans femme and trans women authors and writers are and why the ones I do know, Claire G. Coleman for example, don’t seem to be interacting or being spoken about in the same sentence much. I mean I think I know why, eh.

Akwaeke Emezi and Zeyn Joukhadar (both trans but not trans femme or trans woman) I somehow place in the same space as Claire. All three have had media attention, but I’m trying to be specific on the dissonance I notice. I see white trans femmes being grouped together, and interacting on Twit and other online media — and likely the algorithms amplifying this, and feel like all the others are somehow isolated or separate. Which is one part of it. The other part is these three write about and live in spirit worlds. I feel that’s very familiar to me, and part of why they appear to me solid, multi-dimensional, in full colour. Part of why I’m drawn to them — even when it’s scary, ’cos just reading of spirit worlds draws attention to me, wakes the spirit worlds I know.

I read Charlie Jane Anders because she’s writing sci-fi and I’ve read her for years since the early days of io9. There were a number of other very high-profile novels published by white trans femmes and trans women last year, which I have no desire to read. I don’t care for the stories being told (and in one case think the story is well dodgy), and don’t feel much affinity at all with the authors. And I’m actually concerned (though not surprised) that whiteness is playing a substantial factor in trans femmes and trans women having any kind of success as writers and authors.

That’s a whole fucking convo there, so I’ll move on.

Becky Chambers I have a relationship to I don’t understand. I don’t think I’m a huge fan, but there’s something about her novels I really enjoy reading. I don’t think too hard beyond that and I keep buying them.

Genevieve Cogman though. I did get a kick out of her Invisible Library series, but The Dark Archive is where I’m stepping off. It was the ending, where the previous Big Bad turned out to be a diminutive bad who might actually be on the good side (I dunno, it was months ago now), and the true(?) Big Bad was revealed. Bait and switch is not a narrative device I enjoy unless there’s a huge amount of prior work to make me care, and six novels in feels way too late for such a plot twist.

Alastair Reynolds’ Inhibitor Phase wrapped up that massive universe (for the moment). He’s one of the two or three white cis dudes writing sci-fi I’ll read. It’s mainly because his space opera is so fucking epic. This one has a heap of his delicious weirdness he let loose in the Revenger trilogy, and being Reynolds, of course any celebration is swept away by the whole galaxy getting shafted a few hundred years after the end of this story.

Zeyn Joukhadar. If I was in my old days where I’d write a post per book and spew out hundreds of words, Zeyn would get extra. The Thirty Days of Night and The Map of Salt and Stars are my favourites of the year — and would be Books of the Year if I still did that — for personal reasons as well as he simply writes beautiful stories. And he’s queer and trans and Muslim and Arab, so duh highly unlikely I wouldn’t rate him.

Sliding from fiction to non-fiction, Massoud Hayoun’s When We Were Arabs covers some of the same ground as Zeyn Joukhadar, and reminded me of my father’s family, as well as a couple of moments which caused me to look very side eye at them and what ‘Turkish’ really means. Which is another stitch in the long, slow unravelling of family from that single sentence uttered over a decade ago, “That’s why your grandmother couldn’t stay, because the kitchen was not halal.”

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s As We Have Always Done comes from near the land I was born on and is probably the single most important book I read last year or last several years. Unlike a lot of the heavy politics I read, in books, in articles, on social networks, Simpson also describes ways out of the shithole mess colonialism and white supremacy have caused. I raved to everyone (pandemic everyone, that’s about 5 people) about this book more than once. That kind of book.

Audra Simpson’s Mohawk Interruptus, slightly further east from the other Simpson, I’m still reading. It’s one that got — haw haw — interrupted by other books. It’s one that I need to have the right attention for. Reading this together with the other Simpson is good, strong words.

Geraldine Heng’s The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages is another I’ve raved to everyone about. And I was reading it in 2020, slow reader, me. I’m including it here again because … because it’s probably my non-fiction Book of the Year, over As We Have Always Done, which is a tough call. Settlers and Europeans need to know the history which led to colonialism, white supremacy, invasion, genocide, ongoing occupation of stolen land (as well as cisgender heteronormative supremacy as both a tool of those above systems and actions, and conversely a separate system and action which used those above as tools, a kind of reciprocal system of shit, but that’s not so much a topic for this book). They need to know the long, deep roots of these systems which go back most of the last two thousand years — not as ‘proto-racism’ or ‘not really racism, more like xenophobia’ or whatever, but as actual, recognisable, functioning racism. Racism at encompassing and conscious institutional, political, religious, community levels, and at individual levels. Knowing better how this emerged and evolved in the European Middle Ages makes it possible to understand more clearly Renaissance, Enlightenment, Industrial, and 20th / 21st century colonialism and racism. And that in turn makes it possible for non-Indigenous people to read Simpson and understand deeply what she’s saying and what’s required.

A bit of astronomy and space science now. And racism. Shit’s inescapable like that.

Ray and Cilla Norris’ Emu Dreaming: An Introduction to Australian Aboriginal Astronomy is really an intro, more of a pamphlet I was reading to educate myself on Indigenous astronomy which turns up a lot in my novels. And you’d be surprised at how much has been written on the subject. And by ‘surprised’ I mean not at all, and by ‘much’ I mean really fuck all, and the stuff that has is either paywalled academic papers or insanely expensive academic books.

Ronald Greeley’s Introduction to Planetary Geomorphology turned out also to be very Intro and missing all the fun of the 2015 New Horizons Pluto flyby. I love me all things space science though, so I keep buying these books.

Chanda Prescod Weinstein’s The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, & Dreams Deferred, is the one speaking about racism. Growing up Black and Jewish in East LA, going to Harvard, being queer and agender, these oppressions and marginalisations are inextricable. In my early-teens, I wanted to be an astronomer. Being a young, queer multiethnic trans femme back then — and so many of those words, their meanings, and how they were lived were not available back then — meant I failed out and dropped out of school way before that desire had a chance to bloom. Still love the stars though; still sad fuckall has changed in all the decades since.

What else?

I’m grouping these together: Tiffany M. Florvil’s Mobilizing Black Germany, Priyamvada Gopal’s Insurgent Empire, Johny Pitts’s Afropean, Asim Qureshi’s (ed.) I Refuse To Condemn. I haven’t finished any of these and at least one I’m unlikely to finish. They’re all important books. I really want to be enthusiastic about reading them. I’m just struggling with reading heavy shit (and there’s no way this stuff is not heavy) after two years of a fucking appallingly politicised and mismanaged pandemic response.

I’d almost put Adonia Lugo’s Bicycle / Race in with those. Maybe because I’ve been involved with racism and transphobia in professional / competitive cycling, as well a being very opinionated about bikes, walking, and public transport as the primary method of getting around in cities, and the need to massively reduce if not outright ban private cars and vehicles (yeah, I’m a devout hoon who loves the smell of hot engines and the sound of a redlining engine and I said that), I read this with hope and a bit of joy. I would absolutely do lazy laps of a city with Adonia.

And then there’s a few others I’m not going to mention, but the covers are below. All kinds of feelings and thoughts about all of them. This is already 2000 words and I needed to stop long before now.

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Volkspark Rehburg Plötzensee

I planned to bike along Saatwinklerdamm like I used to do before cyclocross fun in Flughafen Wald. But, realistically, two days after getting booster vacced, 16km of riding and 2 hours of walking felt a little ambitious. So I biked 15 minutes to Plötzensee, walked the east side of that, through the park to Schwarzer Graben and along to the NFL field and Hall of Fame Wedding, back the way I came alongside the canal, back the other way again between the Kolonie Plötzensee, with its garden houses bigger than the places I grew up in on one side and the cemetary on the other, back along Schwarzer Graben and did some random loops of actual Volkspark Rehburg where I got myself lost / turned around and got to walk both of the “I really want to go that way,” paths, which was pretty clever of me, and got back to Uferhallen just as the sunset was lighting up the chimney. Blue sky and sun too, everyone standing around pointing their faces at it like they’d forgotten what it was.

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Volkspark Rehburg Winter

I used to blast through Volkspark Rehburg on my way to doing cyclocross in what I always called Flughafen Wald — which is actually Jungfernheide Forst, but people confuse that with Volkspark Jungfernheide on the south side of the canal, and there’s a lake called Flughafen See at the eastern end of the Forst, so … Flughafen Wald. There’s an enclosure for wild boars at the western end of Rehburg, before the track goes through the Kleingarten (quite a few of which are bigger than my apartment and sitting on land bigger than the whole building I live in). I didn’t see any there, but the bare trees and drizzle and dim light were enough to feel I was out in the countryside and not a 15 minute walk to Müllerstraße.

I’m staying in Wedding for a few days, at Dasniya’s studio in Uferhallen, where I lived with her for five years. It’s nice being back (except for the upstairs neighbour, which is a whole other convo about why older white cishet German women are so much work), and the closest thing I’ll have to a holiday this pandemic. I planned to bike to get vaccinated, but it’s been raining and it’s easier to wash shoes than hose down and re-lube a bike. Walking then, the one thing I can still do four months into some weird round of chronic fatigue symptoms, which could be anything from a fucked neck to depression to just needing a month of getting fucked.

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Tempelhofer Feld Pushing Towards Winter

This is so very Berlin, dim overcast light, grey and washed-out colour that has an austere intensity, not raining but damp and the air is soft with drizzle. It feels like being in the mountains or heath, far from people, walking and walking. My home is my International Orange hardshell, the brightest and most vibrant colour on the airport field, warm and dry and shielded from the wind. This, with tramping boots and a backpack, is something I miss and something that works deeply in calming my hectic inner life. I like the vastness of the land reducing me to this small, solitary thing, walking, walking.

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There have been too few works written about the va…

There have been too few works written about the value of service work and of housework in particular. […] Yet there are few feminist studies that examine the extent to which well-done housework contributes to individual well-being, promotes the development of aesthetics, or aids in the reduction of stress. By learning housework, children and adults accept responsibility for ordering their material reality. They learn to appreciate and care for their surroundings. Since so many male children are not taught housework, they grow to maturity with no respect for their environment and often lack the know-how to take care of themselves and their households. They have been allowed to cultivate an unnecessary dependence on women in their domestic lives, and, as a result of this dependence are sometimes unable to develop a healthy sense of autonomy. Girl children, though usually compelled to do housework, are usually taught to see it as demeaning and degrading. These attitudes lead them to hate doing housework and deprive them of the personal satisfaction that they could feel as they accomplish these necessary tasks. They grow to maturity with the attitude that most work, not just housework, is drudgery, and spent their time fantasizing about lives in which they do not do work, especially service work. Were they taught to value housework, they might approach all work differently. They might see work as an affirmation of one’s identity rather than a negation.

Feminist Theory: from margin to center. Ch 7. Rethinking the Nature of Work p. 104, bell hooks

bell hooks has been around since my early- / mid-teens first contact with feminism. I didn't pay much attention to her at first, not seeing how she was relevant. That's the smallness and limits of my upbringing showing there. A while later, in the noise of Paris is Burning touring the world's film festivals while the stars struggled to make rent, hooks had opinions on Venus Extravaganza that were disappointingly and unsurprisingly 2nd Wave. There was a long gap before I read her again, though she was always around. In 2013, a few months after I re-read Feminist Theory: from margin to center she hung out with Janet Mock and read her autobiography; in 2014 she had a dialogue with Laverne Cox at The New School. I felt she was someone from that generation who'd put it together a little better, and if Janet and Laverne and all the other Black trans femmes could be in the same room as her and share their love for her, I could move on from her remarks 20 years previously. We all gotta be allowed to grow a little. (But that doesn't give her a pass to come for Beyoncé.)

bell hooks passed over to Ancestor space earlier today.

The first thing I thought of was her writing on domestic work in Feminist Theory. I've quoted her (and often Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak on the same subject at the same time) to probably everyone I know if we ever had a conversation about housework. The quote continues after this, and like a lot of her writing I thought it became dogmatic and made some improbable conjectures. But that's bell hooks. She was this brilliant, Black feminist theorist who understood why housework was so important, who was loved by Janet and Laverne and Raquel Wells and so many Black trans femmes and mascs, and in turn worked to earn their respect and love, and whose opinions over the years, from Paris is Burning to Beyoncé were occasionally of a different era and different feminism and occasionally shite.

I love doing housework, cooking and cleaning, and while I'm on my knees mopping the floor feeling like it's not at all demeaning or degrading or drudgery, I'm thinking, "Yeah, doing aesthetics here, care for self and the world, it's beauty and it's got value," and bell hooks is nodding going, "Yes, child, affirmation of your identity coming through strong."

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Tempelhofer Feld Kestrel

Kestrel finally allowed me to take a video of them hunting.

Heaps windy and fresh after the storm last night. Me doing my usual wobbly lap along the southern pavé saw a crow having a go at a Kestrel. Kestrel was not having that and making a right racket. They both ended up perched on the bird sanctuary fence as I was walking past. I asked the crow, “Why you being such a cunt?” Kestrel flew off when I was between them and crow, and crow didn’t want to fly through me to get at them so hauled off in the other direction. Probably gonna have to give that one a feed so they don’t tell all their mates to shit on me next time.

On the gravel by the old airport ground this one was on the hunt. Maybe the same one. There’s a few of them there. Actually hung around long enough for me to get my phone out and then came up right over me for a long hover before diving at a mouse or something.

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Tempelhofer Feld Plant Life

Really not blogging much since the utterly brilliant pandemic response murdered all the fun and way too many good people. Everyone I know has been experiencing highly abstracted perceptions of time. Did we talk last week? Last week was last year.

Tempelhofer Feld has been giving me some low energy pleasure. The resident kestrels even took a perch near me for long enough I could photograph one the other day.

The only thing not giving me energy are the white cishet couples where the woman does the “Oooh it’s a tranny!” to her man. Big sucking the dick of your oppressor energy there, hun. I was wondering if they do this because if I respond to the woman, she can use the “It’s a man!” defence to have her man do the physical violence. All fun, no consequences for these cishet women.

Yallah, a month ago, when it was still autumn-ish, I enjoyed the plant life around the southern perimeter road, just up the rise by the trees. I was going to prettify them a bit, but a month later obviously that’s not happening.

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Tempelhofer Feld Clocks Went Back

Not even going to pretend I have any chance of blogging anything other than photos of Tempelhofer Feld. Sunday and the first day of “might as well pretend we’re all fucked until Spring ’22” clocks went back and it gets dark before 17:00 now. Saw the Kestrel / Peregrine / Hawk / whatever the little one is out hunting again.

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Mid-Autumn

Sunset at Tempelhofer Feld under a tree along the perimeter road west of the north-east entrance. The blue sky was endlessly deep blue and the leaves a fractal hallucination for bare minutes as the sun went below the horizon.