This meme just went by in my feed and I thought it sounded interesting. Participants simply answer three questions about their reading habits and link back to the original post. (Feel free to post in the comments if you’d prefer or don’t have a blog to post to) I feel like you can tell a lot about a person by what they are interested in reading and so when you’re done here, click on over to the original post and see what others are on about.
What are you currently reading?
I’m a huge fan of literary travel and have always liked Paul Theroux. I’ve followed him around the world for a couple of decades now starting with reading Riding the Iron Rooster aloud to Sage and (then about 1 month old) Daegan back in 1998. He would wake up in the night and not want to go back to sleep and so to entertain ourselves and keep awake I’d read aloud from a book that Sage and I liked. (It would be another year or two before he’d get his own preferences on what we should read).
Deep South, though, is pretty heavy. Interestingly enough, Daegan bought it for himself (See the power of parental influence?) but I snatched it away from him as I’ve been working in the deep south myself off and on from late 2014. It is always shocking to go from politically and socially progressive Toronto to a small Louisiana town and I really wanted to understand more about why things are the way they are there. I can’t say as I fully understand why they still are the way they are, but his travels throughout the region mixed with historical details and interviews with locals give an idea of how they got there. Progress when it comes to racism is slow and as we saw this past week, some folks are really reluctant to give up their beliefs – likely due in part to a reluctance to give up their privilege.
I have found the book tremendously interesting but also very heavy reading. I need breaks from it every now and again to read something lighter. I should finish it this week though which, as good a book as it is, is a bit of a relief.
What did you recently finish reading?
For probably 30 years I’ve wanted to visit India. It seemed so different from anything I’d experienced before on so many levels. In the past few years, though, I’ve been looking at the things I say “Someday I will…” about and actually putting them in to action. In 2014, 20 years after learning the Hindi words for various foods and spices from the back of a cookbook and thinking it would be interesting t o learn to speak and read the language, I started to learn Hindi. In early 2016 I remembered I wanted to visit India someday. A really busy project with lots of overtime had recently given me a bit of extra cash and so I decided to dive in. It was William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns – a Year in Delhi combined with a preference to go somewhere where Hindi was spoken widely that made me choose Delhi as my starting point. (Tahir Shah’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice would help me with decisions about my itinerary after arrival).
Delhi and William Dalrymple have me caught in an infinite loop, I’m afraid. After reading City of Djinns I visited and found the city fascinating. I was only there 3-4 days but saw a number of places that got me interested in the history of the city – Humayun’s Tomb and the grounds there, the Qutb Minar, and one of my favourite spots, the Mehrauli Architectural Park where I would come across “Metcalfe’s Folly” a tomb that a British Colonial Administrator decided would make a lovely summer home. I remember looking at it (now back in its proper role as tomb), reading the plaque and thinking “What kind of jerk goes somewhere and does this?”
The second piece of the loop is that after seeing all of these sites, I needed to know more about what I’d seen and the history there. I asked my Airbnb host who was well versed in Mughal history (and who coincidentally happened to know Dalrymple well) what I should read if I wanted to know more about the Mughal dynasty and she suggested this book.
Another tough read emotionally. It talked about the 1857 Uprising in India (To my readers in India: Is there a proper name for this event? “Uprising” seems a bit colonial and maybe somewhat inappropriate). What a terrible mess that was with evangelical Christians pressuring locals to give up their religions and their practices which made many feel threatened followed by a really foolish move by the British providing ammunition to soldiers (including Muslim and Hindu soldiers) lubricated in beef and/or pork fat with packages that were to be opened with one’s mouth. Tensions boiled over and Indian soldiers fought against the British, eventually expelling them from Delhi and killing many of them in the process.
Then there were a few things on various sides that sound familiar – like everyone’s just repeating history over and over:
The soldiers who rose up against the British then started harassing residents in Delhi (all Indian now – the British either died or fled) for money and food to the point that the so-called liberators, along with extremists who came along for the ride were now making daily life for residents of the city hellish. People began to starve.
The British started spreading rumours of rapes perpetrated by Muslim soldiers against the British (later completely disproved). When the British finally retook the city, they used this as an excuse to rape many women in the city.
The British soldiers, traumatized by the actions of the rebel soldiers, used their trauma as an excuse to commit further atrocities and kill many people – often with little or no cause. Metcalfe, of “What kind of jerk does that?!?” fame became very fond of hanging people to the point that officers wrote to their superiors expressing concern that what he was doing was wrong. At first they would excuse it because he was traumatized by the rebellion but eventually even they had to admit that he was going way beyond what he should. (This answers “What kind of jerk does that?” I think). He was eventually shipped back to England to stop him from hanging any more people.
Despite all of this it was a fascinating read and had so many parallels to the current world situation I had a hard time putting it down even though like the Theroux book above, it was really difficult reading, emotionally speaking.
Of course the final piece of the infinite loop is this: Having read more about Delhi and its history, I really want to go back and see more. Or maybe I need my own “Year in Delhi”.
What might you read next?
Another genre I like are books on the subject of how our brains work and what we can do to use them more effectively. This one is for a book club at work that we’ll be talking about at the end of the month I struggle with motivation myself and so often have to re-read a quote from Oliver Burkeman: “You don’t have to feel like doing something to do it.” True, but how much more fun is it to do it when you feel like it? And how great would it be to make myself “feel like it” more often.
Along with that, looking at my past reading, I think it’s clear I need some light reading. Something funny or some really interesting science fiction. I think I need to make another library trip to find something that fits that bill. (And to go to a library I’ve never been before in a part of the city I’ve never visited)
So what’re you reading?