Sunday Review

Book I read last week

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

 

Book I took out of a library today and intend to start reading tonight

Metroland by Julian Barnes

 

Other books I’m skimming

Big and Small: A Cultural History of Extraordinary Bodies by Lynne Vallone

The Philosophy of Poetry, edited by John Gibson

The Liar’s Companion A Field Guide for Fiction Writers by Lawrence Block

 

TV series I’m currently watching

Babylon Berlin

Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 9

Detectorists, Season 3

 

Film I watched last week

Atomic Blonde

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Sunday Review

Book I read last week

Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West by Tom Holland

 

Books I am reading now but will probably not finish

Jewish Comedy: A Serious History by Jeremy Dauber

Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá

 

Book I’m looking forward to reading

Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard

 

Books we must pass over in silence

One Fat Englishman by Kingsley Amis

A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman

 

Albums I enjoyed listening to last week

Tchamantché , Rokia Traoré

Party, Aldous Harding

The World Encompassed, Orlando Gough, Fretwork

 

Film I watched last week

Suzanne 

 

TV programme I’m watching now

Blue Planet II

Thoughts on Contemporary African Literary Criticism

What follows is a series of largely unfair and not entirely serious responses to this article by Prof Tony E. Afejuku, published in The Guardian (Nigeria) on the 17th of February, 2017.

 

(1) “A complete, thorough knowledge of African writers is compulsory for anyone interested in contemporary African literature.”

We should all be interested in African literature. But we don’t all have the time to be completists. The task itself (the containment of all African writing in one human mind) is impossible. If he or she is lucky, a diligent scholar may, after a lifetime of study, digest all notable works written in a single language over a half-century. To expect more is unreasonable. And to demand the same degree of commitment from a harried executive who picks up a copy of Half of a Yellow Sun on his way to work is to place unnecessary obstacles in the reader’s path.

 

(2) “Whether the African writer is liked or not liked is of no value, of no importance, of no relevance, but he or she must be read and evaluated dispassionately.”

A fine sentiment, but as Prof Afejuku knows, it is difficult to dispassionately review a writer one does not like and impossible to fairly judge an artist one detests. Professional critics, like the rest us, are adept at justifying their prejudices. They convince themselves they dislike a writer’s prose when they really dislike his politics, the size of his advance or the shape of his nose.

 

(3) “Today, in Africa, we seem to have far more writers than critics.”

Has it not always been so, at all times and in all places? Is this not desirable? I assume, of course, that by critic Prof Afejuku means one who engages in criticism as a rigorous intellectual activity, as opposed to one who has a casual opinion he is willing to share.

 

(4) “Ernest Emenyonu’s chastisement of Bernth Lindfors for his jaundiced criticism of Cyprian Ekwensi’s fictional art is too well known to be re-visited here in full.”

Well known perhaps to readers of the Journal of the African Literature Association, but not, I dare say, to readers of The Guardian.

 

(5) “Critics of conscience are giving way to critics of ethnic value, critics who encourage and father commercialism.”

Hear, hear.

 

(6) “Many years ago, when my sense of criticism was just above its fledgling state, as a young bird fledging to fly . . . .”

Here we witness a rare manoeuvre: the exhumation of a dead metaphor. Compare: “A few years ago, when the first green shoots of economic recovery began to appear, like tender shoots breaking through the earth . . .”

Or “He wore an expression of steely resolve, like a bar of steel that cannot be broken.”

 

(7) “He was not induced against me by the malaria of racial malice or the ‘jaundice’ of racial prejudice.”

Alternatively, and sticking with the alliterative theme, “He was not induced against me by the malaria of malice, the polio of prejudice, the jaundice of jealousy or the Ebola of envy. Nor was our relationship blighted by the tuberculosis of tension or the dengue fever of denial.” (There are, it turns out, a host of ideological maladies which the immunocompromised acquire, through no fault of their own, by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.)

 

(8) “This is in no way an exercise in self-trumpet-blowing.”

I, unlike Prof Afejuku, have blown a self-trumpet. It is an overrated experience.

Sunday Review

Book I took out of a library yesterday after several abortive attempts to read it on my phone

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

 

Films I half-watched because I accidentally set my Sky Q box to record Film4’s entire FilmFear series

No One Lives

A Field in England*

Yakuza Apocalypse

A Dark Song

Stonehearst Asylum

 

Book I reread last week and would highly recommend

On Moral Fiction by John Gardner

 

Book I lied about reading last Sunday

Persian Fire by Tom Holland

 

Books I will start reading this week if I can find the time

Persian Fire by Tom Holland

Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood

 

TV show I intend to watch tonight

Tracey Breaks the News

Sunday Review

Book I’m reading now

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates

 

Books read last week:

Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett

DarkMarket: Cyberthieves, Cybercops and You by Misha Glenny

 

Films watched last week:

Locke (rewatched)

Behemoth

War for the Planet of the Apes

 

TV shows I will watch this evening:

Russia with Simon Reeve

Tunes for Tyrants: Music and Power with Suzy Klein

 

Articles I enjoyed reading last week:

“How Vulgarity Normalizes Predators” by Leah Libresco Sargeant

“The Science of Spying: How the CIA Secretly Recruits Academics” by Daniel Golden

“Binders Full of Asininity” by Jonah Goldberg

Sunday Review

Song I listened to on repeat last Thursday:

 

Book I’m currently reading:

Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett

 

Books I’m supposed to be reading:

Family Britain by David Kynaston

A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman

The Power by Naomi Alderman

 

Books read last week:

The Happy Atheist by P Z Myers

What If? The World’s Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been by David McCullough et al.

 

Films watched last week:

White God (2014)

Robin and Marian (1976)

 

Podcasts I haven’t listened to in months:

The Guardian Long Read

Filmspotting

All Songs Considered

 

TV shows I will watch this evening:

Electric Dreams: Impossible Planet

The Child in Time

 

Historical images I have been unable to forget:

Don Sturkey’s photographs of Dorothy Counts on her way to school

Alice Seeley Harris’s 1904 photograph of a Congolese man staring at his daughter’s amputated hand and foot

Sunday Review

Books read last week:

The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers by Thomas Fleming

Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar by Tom Holland

Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977–2002) by David Sedaris

 

Books I’m skimming to keep up with my fifteen-year-old nephew:

Moral Luck: Philosophical Papers 1973-1980 by Bernard Williams

The Concept of Mind by Gilbert Ryle

The Mechanical Mind: A Philosophical Introduction to Minds, Machines, and Mental Representation by Tim Crane

 

Books which, by remaining unread, have led me to reevaluate my relationship with Allah:

One Fat Englishman by Kingsley Amis

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter

 

Film I watched because it was mentioned in Austerity Britain

Passport to Pimlico

 

Films I watched last week because I am yet to teach my wayward heart to do my mind’s bidding:

Surrogates

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

 

Films I intend to watch next week, come hell or high water:

Notes on Blindness

White God

 

TV series recommended to a pair of confused Jehovah’s Witnesses, apropos of nothing:

Masters of Sex

The Handmaid’s Tale

American Gods

 

TV shows with 2+ episodes sitting unwatched on my Sky Q box:

Garrow’s Law

Rellik

Doctor Foster

University Challenge

The Brain with David Eagleman

Sunday Review

Books I’m Reading:

Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar by Tom Holland

Family Britain, 1951-1957 by David Kynaston

 

Books I will start reading this week, inshallah:

One Fat Englishman by Kingsley Amis

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter

 

Books I will return to the library unread:

The Girls by Emma Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

 

Books recently recommended to strangers on trains:

Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves by Sarah B. Pomeroy

American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry by Ned Sublette and Constance Sublette

 

Articles I enjoyed reading last week:

“A Quick Reminder of Why Colonialism Was Bad” by Nathan J. Robinson (Current Affairs)

Anne Enright on the underrepresentation of women in Irish literature (London Review of Books)

“Imagining the Future of Nigeria: Accessing Africa Through Sci-Fi” by Deji Bryce Olukotun (Lithub)

Emma Brockes on Martin Amis. Anne Enright on Amis’s new book. (The Guardian)

 

Films watched last week:

The Levelling

Robocop (2014)

 

TV shows I’m looking forward to:

The Child in Time (BBC1)

Sunday Review

Book I’m currently reading:

A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War by Thomas Fleming

 

Books I should be reading:

Family Britain, 1951-1957 by David Kynaston

A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman

The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II by Svetlana Alexievich

 

Books I took out of a public library two weeks ago and do not intend to read:

One Fat Englishman by Kingsley Amis

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The Girls by Emma Cline

(The plan, long since abandoned, was to take out three books each day and skim through them rapidly, mapping out territory I might choose to explore in detail later.)

 

Books I have recommended to friends in the last two weeks:

Experiments in Ethics by Kwame Anthony Appiah

Human, All Too Human by Friedrich Nietzsche

Austerity Britain, 1945-51 by David Kynaston

 

Films seen in the last two weeks:

I Am Not Your Negro (rewatched)

Prometheus (rewatched)

Lady Macbeth

Goodfellas (rewatched)

Regarding Susan Sontag (rewatched)

Renoir 

 

Films I should see this week:

Notes on Blindness

The Levelling

 

TV shows I’m looking forward to this week:

Liar (ITV)

Electric Dreams (Channel 4)

Tin Star (Sky Atlantic)

(Okay, I’m not exactly “looking forward” to any of these, but goddammit I paid for Sky TV and intend to get my money’s worth.)

The Rhinoceri, Washington and Lincoln

From The New York Times:

A class-action lawsuit about overtime pay for truck drivers hinged entirely on a debate that has bitterly divided friends, families and foes: The dreaded — or totally necessary — Oxford comma, perhaps the most polarizing of punctuation marks.

What ensued in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and in a 29-page court decision handed down on Monday, was an exercise in high-stakes grammar pedantry that could cost a dairy company in Portland, Me., an estimated $10 million. […]

Legal history is replete with cases in which a comma made all the difference, like a $1 million dispute between Canadian companies in 2006 or a very costly insertion of a comma in an 1872 tariff law.