Reading: Edward Said — Orientalism (2nd time)

Distracting myself from a quartet of books I’ve been struggling with for an age (thanks, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak), I “accidentally” picked up Edward Said’s Orientalism again. It’s been a while since I blearily (and slowly) read an academic book over breakfast; I am well out of practice. I don’t remember how awkwardly his gendered language sat with me in the past as this time around, though he was almost exclusively writing about white European men, nonetheless, Orientalism remains a depressingly relevant and critical read.

Reading: Emily Honig — Sisters and Strangers: Women in the Shanghai Cotton Mills, 1919-1949

As usual when I wander into my favourite bookshop, I cannot resist orbiting the gravity-sucking walls of books. I tend to not buy books impulsively, half because my list of books I want to read is already in the three figures, and half because — well, mostly it’s that reading list — but occasionally …

What an odd book to find on the shelves of St George’s. Someone probably thought, “Oh, that’d be something Frances would read,” or maybe it’s entirely automated and whenever a new shipment of books arrive, there is a small, random assortment that the regulars, like me, have a high probability of not leaving the shop without. Obviously the title was immediately intriguing, one of the periods of Chinese history I enjoy greatly, and subject itself, I immediately thought it would fit in with Gail Hershatter and Susan Mann. Which it does, because as Emily Honig describes in her acknowledgements, she was part of a group at Stanford University in the ’70s which included Hershatter, and both Hershatter and Mann were involved in the research and writing of this work.

This then is a situation when I impulsively buy a book. Sisters and Strangers: Women in the Shanghai Cotton Mills, 1919-1949 has a very narrow focus, much like the works from Mann, Hershatter, Janet Chen, all of whom individually I think are doing some of the finest research and writing on China in the last couple of decades. It’s not an easy, casual read, but it is very rewarding, and I’m enjoying it partly just to discover another one of this group.

Reading: Ytasha L. Womack – Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture

As usual, I didn’t read the blurb closely enough. I thought this was an anthology of Afrofuturist sci-fi and fantasy; turns out it’s an anthropological history of it. Which is actually probably better for me to read anyway. As to why I’m reading it …

There is a definite correlation with my reading decision in skiffy a couple years ago to actively read women authors – something I’d been musing on that also was prodded into deliberate action by a post on Charles Stross’ blog asking the question, “What do you think is the most important novel of the past 10-and-a-bit years (published since January 1st 2000)? All male authors are disqualified.” (first comment: “This is going to be brief, and interesting…”). This obviously begged the question, “Where are the non-Anglo-American skiffy/fantasy writers?” a question I’ve felt much more of an urge to answer as the monoculture of the white male writer presents a stunningly limited worldview and range of possibilities for fiction.

Enter Saladin Ahmed, writing some kind of Arabian fantasy (Lovecraftian 1001 Nights-ish), which was so refreshing just for the different setting: no crypto-euro monarchism here. And between reading him and now, I have fallen into a rich world that appears to be on the cusp of becoming mainstream – well, as mainstream as reading sci-fi and fantasy printed on dead trees has ever been. Which led me to reading about Ytasha L. Womack’s Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture, and thinking, “Ooh, I’ll have some of that!” and so off we go, another book on my shelf.

I was hoping for an anthology though; that’s always been my reliable way of finding new authors (of which I currently have far too many and they are proliferating), but there are enough references in this that there will be at least one who will pique my interest. It’s also very United States focussed, but I’m a few chapters in and finding it a fun and quick read, and as well it’s causing me to think about how a conception of Afrofuturism is applicable to finding other ~futurisms: Islamofuturism, Persofuturism, Turkofuturism …