Educated

I’m standing on the red railway car that sits abandoned next to the barn.

Educated, Tara Westover, HarperCollins 2018

“Holy shit” might simultaneously be very fitting and entirely inappropriate for these memoirs from a woman that grows in Mormon surroundings with a family that seems to be a magnet for mental and physical disaster.

Tara’s father is sure that the End of Days is near, Iluminati are real and that the government is out to get you and brainwash you. The children are home-schooled and are expected to devote their entire lives to the family. Some of them do so easier than others, and not everyone has the mental health to do so.

Straighter put: there’s several not-diagnosed issues walking around and as everything is God’s will or a government-threat, there’s no room to change things. Even in cases of life or death.

Through a combination of circumstances and clear decisions; Tara starts to see things differently, starts to develop differently. Educated is the story of where it started, how it went and where it (for now) ended. It’s also a pamphlet for education, mental health care and a supportive society.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter

Only idiots aren’t afraid of flying.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, Scaachi Koul, Doubleday 2017

I didn’t know about this woman’s existence before reading this collection of articles/slices of life. Possibly it was the title that caught my attention, and I always consciously try to read more by women of colour. Another thing I appreciated was how her view of India juxtaposed with the one mentioned in The Far Field. As someone who wants to visit India one day, it was nice to hear that it’s not an unsafe for white people pile of trash after all.

But I deter; this is about Scaachi Koul, not me. A Canadian woman with Indian parents and the body, hangups and cultural differences that come with it. She discusses these in a dry tone and also explains why: women have little room – women of colour even less to have any kind of emotion that isn’t desired.

In under 200 pages she shows both her life as that of an immigrant daughter, a brown woman in Canada, just another person growing up.

Some articles are very recognisable, some might make you cringe. As far as insights go: consider me further insighted.

Beschavingen

Er was een vrouw, de dochter van Ketil Platneus, die Aud de Diepzinnige heette en koningin was geweest.

Beschavingen, Laurent Binet, Meulenhoff 2020

Ik ben een grote fan van ‘wat-als’-verhalen, en Binet’s vorige was mij ook zeer positief blij gebleven, maar in dit geval leverden beiden niet wat ik verwachtte: een boek dat je niet opzij kunt leggen.

Deze keer gaat het om kolonisatie en dan vooral van Midden- en Zuid-Amerika. Wat als Europeanen dat niet was gelukt, en de Inka’s deze kant op waren gekomen? Een flinke ‘wat-als’, en op deze manier eens de bekende geschiedenis bekijken: prima ja graag.

Het eerste dat mij stoorde was de aanwezigheid van de auteur, die heb ik er nooit graag bij. Daarna zwalkte de toon soms naar geschiedenisdocent in plaats van roman; encyclopendieën lezen nu eenmaal minder lekker weg.

Tot slot, al is dit zeer persoonlijk, vind ik het jammer dat er maar een klein tijdbestek is ingezet. Hoe had dit impact op gouden eeuwen, de VOC, Noord-Amerika en andere continenten? Wanneer ging het mis, als het mis zou gaan?

Dit voelde vooral als een opzetje dat Michael Bay of Mel Gibson gaat gebruiken voor een verfilming in weinig meer dan naam zodat er veel bloed kan vloeien. Amalfi (Italië) zal ze vast verwelkomen voor mooie plaatjes.

Seven Fallen Feathers

You see, the giant Nanabijjou made a deal.

Seven Fallen Feathers; Racism, death and hard truths in a Northern city, Tanya Talaga, Anansi Press 2017

I honestly don’t understand why there isn’t a massive uprising worldwide because of all of the abuse indigenous people have been put through. Well, I do understand, but I don’t. No, this isn’t a light, happy read.

Seven Fallen Feathers are seven indigenous teenagers that are mauled, killed and spit out by a society that doesn’t have any room for them and doesn’t care about it either. This is Canada, but I’m sure it can be applied worldwide. Tanya Talaga gathers information about cases in the past decade that have been – one after another – just written off as accidents while plenty of signs point to the opposite. While doing that, she also shows life for indigenous people in Canada, their history and contemporary reality of endless racism and abuse and the government that is supposed to care be absolutely uncaring.

It’s an endless train wreck; after a while you just know not to expect better from police, society and government. The hand dealt is five fingers short and rotten thoroughly, but only excuses follow.

For someone who fell in love with the country, it’s an ugly eye-opener. But looking away leads to ignorance, and that’s never a good thing. Through all this, Talaga manages to show the beautiful sides, the strange and wonderful sides of the indigenous people. If only more would see.

Recently on Kanopy

A summary.

Free Fall (Freier fall) “The German Brokeback Mountain“. Sweet, sometimes sexy, but sadly also straight from the Gay Drama Clichés Play Book – including biphobia.

Kedi a Turkish documentary about the special connection the city Istanbul (and its inhabitants) has with (street) cats. Prepare yourself for burly men softened up by kittens, beautiful shots and a whole other view on Turkey.

What will people say (Hva vil folk si) shows a Norwegian teen getting the short stick in the culture clash between I- and we-cultures. It’s sad and frustrating and completely carried by the main actor.

Spoiler Alert: the Hero Dies

Our relationship was over before it began.

I’ve read another memoir. Maybe it reads easier when you don’t know the person writing it, or the recent ones just were written entertainingly and well. I’m guessing the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Michael Ausiello is an entertainment writer, and this story is about how his partner dies. With a title like this there’s little surprise to the ending of his story, but Ausiello manages to write it in such a way that you start to doubt that title – the man knows what works to keep your reader compelled, after all. So there’s chapters about the highs and lows of their relationship, the beginnings and (almost) break ups. He writes himself down while his partner is plucked from the heavens, even when he’s being quite terrible.

It’s a story very close to someone; and to recognise that these people are(/were) really alive makes it sometimes terribly uncomfortable. Should the reader be around of another round of bad news or self-doubt? Is it not too close, to follow someone’s mourning on this level?

Because Spoiler Alert is about love and loss and other four letter words, but also very much about Michael Ausiello.

Spoiler Alert: the Hero Dies; a memoir of love, loss and other four letter words, Michael Ausiello, Atria Books 2017

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race

It wasn’t until my second year of university that I started to think about black British history.

I guess August was for non-fiction, or that This Lovely City just put me in the mindset to learn more about black British history. Because of course, of course – in some way you know that the islands aren’t an utopia for black and brown people, but how much of black history is focused on the USA (effectively making it possible for Europeans to dodge any responsibility?)? Turns out – when it comes to my knowledge – a lot.

Don’t write this title off as a history book now (why would you write off any book because it has history, you don’t love history?), because as anything involving people; history is just one part of it. As Eddo-Lodge explains it probably better than I do: intersectionality is a thing, and you can’t discuss a human issue without looking at the place where it intersects.

So, this book is about history, about feminism, about the media and white privilege. It’s about health and education, and every other part of human life. In clearly cut chapters, in clear language, Eddo-Lodge doesn’t only answer the title’s question, but also explains to you why you should take responsibility regarding it.

And just like that, I’ve got my first book for my students to read (from).

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, Reni Eddo-Lodge, Bloomsbury 2017

Notes from a Young Black Chef

About seven and a half hours

I think I’m getting the hang of this audio book thing. It even made me thoroughly enjoy a memoir!

This is the first time I’ve heard of this man; this novel is part of the Black Lives Matter-category in one of my libraries. That’s one reason I decided on borrowing it, the other is his function: he’s a chef.

And he makes the dishes sound so good, the passion for food and cooking so clear that his career couldn’t have been otherwise. There’s struggle on his road to it (and that’s putting it nicely), but Onwuachi has such strength that it turns into a rags to riches to rags to riches to rags Hollywood-approved story instead of self-pitying lamenting. And the author shares how and why he continuously had the strength to do so.

The good thing about reading an unknown’s (to you) memoir is that you won’t be confronted with things you already know; the bad thing is that it can make you wonder why you’re spending your time on a stranger’s story. In this case, it felt like I was listening to a Black Western playing out in streets and kitchens, brought so enticingly that I regularly cycled a bit further to just keep listening.

Notes from a Young Black Chef, Kwame Onwuachi, Penguin Random House Group 2019

De mannen van Maria

We gingen om te baren, verscheept op bestelling van de heren ginds, zeven meisjes die vaak niet eens waren gekust.

Het verhaal van hoe ik aan dit boek ben gekomen is bijna net zo’n bevalling als alle reizen binnen dit boek – en het speelt zich af in de zeventiende eeuw ten tijde van de VOC. Dus nee, niet bepaald soepeltjes en vlot.

Was het de moeite waard? Nu lijkt het net alsof ik alle Nederlandse auteurs over één kam scheer, maar ook dit boek gaf mij weer het Hasse Simonsdochter-gevoel. Avontuur, en er zijn niet genoeg avontuurboeken voor volwassenen zonder dat er gelijk met kennis wordt gepatst of er meerdere wijze Levenslessen doorheen zijn gevlochten.

De mannen van Maria laat dat allemaal lekker links liggen. Natuurlijk, er is ongetwijfeld veel research gegaan in het verhaal van Maria van Aelst, de VOC, Batavia en de andere koloniën, maar het valt niet op. Het is allemaal een soepeltjes weggewerkt onderdeel van het verhaal: het opgroeien van een vrouw die in deze tijd op de Forbes-cover zou staan en wereldwijd bekend zou staan als self-made influencer.

Het verhaal moet even opwarmen, meerdere wegwerpopmerkingen á la “maar dat is niet belangrijk”/”dat is niet mijn verhaal”/”daar kan ik niets over zeggen” storen in het creëren van het plaatje van een niet al zo nette VOC-geschiedenis. Maar net zoals Maria zichzelf steeds verder ontwikkelt, vindt het verhaal haar weg ook op den duur.

De mannen van Maria, Anneloes Timmerije, Querido 2019

Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me?

This was my first audio book! Read/listened to, not written. I’m not Mindy Kaling. Does listening to a story make you judge it differently than reading it? I don’t think so, but I’m not sure yet.

I have little experience with audio books; solely the idea just doesn’t appeal to me. I’m too old and too impatient to be read, and what if it’s a bad voice? The second argument made me gave up on two books before managing to finish this one. Mindy Kaling knows how to use her voice, doesn’t do other voices (too often) and has people come in for their own (male) parts. It helps.

What also helps is that her story is fun, her tone and story realistic without being too self-deprecating (never nice in a woman), and plenty happens (it’s a memoir, you might expect that, but Mindy shares it). Yes, there’s a bit of an overdose of numbered lists and sometimes you could feel a bit iffy about the vocabulary used, but this book is almost ten years old already and we as a society changed towards the better on certain levels regarding language.

I’ve started listening to audio books because I wanted something different during my runs. Mindy kind of paved the way.

Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? (and other concerns), Mindy Kaling, Penguin Random House 2011