It’s only my third month of being part of a virtual book club but it’s already given me an excuse to read books that I’ve always wanted to. This month’s selection is another that I’ve been interested in but would never have read off my own back. Mostly because I always thought it would be a letdown. When this was suggested as a possible book, it was picked by someone who had seen the film. Now, I enjoyed Spike Lee’s adaptation of the book as much as the next person but I also knew that a lot of the plot had been made up. The bomb plot, for example, was not part of Ron Stallworth’s story but had been added for the film. I suspected that the person who put it forward was under the impression that the film was accurate. After all, she had described it as “shocking content (of the film was anything to go by)”. When it came to the vote, I went with another choice but was outvoted. I’m not complaining, merely stating a fact. I got my copy of the book and started to read. Boy, was it a bit of a slog.
I’ll be honest, I’ve not done that well this week. It’s taking me ages to get through my current read but I’m hopeful that I’ll get ahead this week. Well, I can hope. I could really do with a break. I know that holidays are sort of off the agenda at the moment but I had a week booked this month. I might not be able to go anywhere but getting some time off work would be so good. The last few months have been tough for everyone and I just want to sleep and read. But I always want to do that. Whether there’s a pandemic or not.
Do you remember all of the Oscar nonsense this year? When a bunch of white filmmakers said something to the tune of “race shouldn’t be a factor and it should be based on quality”. Well, that whole image of the best films/actors/directors/etc being rewarded goes up in flames when you consider Selma. When discussing the recent Black Lives Matter protests, actor David Oyelowo spoke out about the way the Oscars turned their backs on Ava DuVernay’s film. For anyone that missed it, Selma came out around the time that Eric Garner was murdered. When the cast wore “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts to the premier, the Academy didn’t like it one bit. They went so far as to say to the studio and producers ‘We are not going to vote for that film because we do not think it is their place to be doing that.’ So, Selma, a film that had received critical acclaim, was shunned for speaking out against police brutality. A film about the civil rights movement, one of the defining political movements in American history, was criticised for being too political. The Academy spat out its dummy and ignored the story of Black people standing up for their rights. And people wonder why #Oscarssowhite trended all over social media?
In his essay The Death of the Author, Roland Barthes argued that the only way to read a book was to separate it from its author. According to Barthes, authorial context and intent wouldn’t provide insight into the meaning of the text. Instead, it would limit the amount of meaning a reader could take from it. Giving a text an author before you analyse it was nothing more than a convenient and simple way to understand it. For Barthes, the meaning of a book wasn’t dependent on who the author was but on who the reader was. As we can never really be sure of what an author intended, trying to understand a novel based on who they were as a person would always be flawed. The author, thus, becomes not a God but merely a “scriptor”. They aren’t imposing meaning but merely translating putting the meaning on paper for the reader to untangle themselves.
When Hamilton first came to the stage in 2015, I was adamant that I wouldn’t jump on the bandwagon. I mean, everyone was banging on about this musical and how amazing it was. How different and inspiring. It didn’t help that my interest in American history is basically non-existent. But, for whatever reason, I stubbornly avoided it. Until one day when I decided to listen to the soundtrack. I don’t know why I decided it was the day but I was on my way to a job interview. I wasn’t really paying attention on the way there but I was hooked by the time I got home. I couldn’t stop listening to it and I’ve not been able to stop since. Most of my top songs on Spotify for 2019 were from Hamilton. My top artist for last year was Hamilton. It’s become my go-to album and works for any mood. When I’m tired, sad, happy, bored, or just facing a long day of work. Hamilton would always be the perfect thing to sort me out. So, when it was announced that the West End run in 2019 was being lengthened, I knew I had to get tickets. Seeing it live was one of the best theatre experiences I’ve ever had. And I’ve had some great ones.
Can we all come to some sort of agreement, please? That we stop comparing contemporary crime thrillers to Agatha Christie? I know that she still has a reputation as a cosy crime writer but Christie is the type of writer that very few can live up to. She has a deep understanding of human behaviour and knows how to mislead her readers convincingly. I blame her writing for the fact that I so often guess book twists. She, and to some extent Arthur Conan Doyle, has trained me to start thinking too critically about everything I read. I’m always disappointed by modern crime books. Especially those super hyped ones that everyone loves. Like The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley. I’ve heard so many people praising it but I was not blown away. I’d guessed who the victim was from the start and it was super obvious who had killed them. So, I hadn’t intended to read her follow-up The Guest List. Until the ebook was on offer. It might not be a great read but at least it would dull the boredom for a while.
It’s been another tough week but, hopefully, it’s going to get better from here on out. We’ve been super stretched but things are getting easier. And I might actually get a break this month. Pre-Covid, I was meant to be going away with my family this month. Obviously, the holiday is off but I might still be able to use my days. Although, work may very well turn around and say they can’t spare me. Hopefully not. The idea of having a week off is the only thing keeping me going right now. A week to read, relax, and catch up on my sleep. Yes, it’s not like I go anywhere or do anything but I’m a homebody anyway.
June went by in a bit of a whirlwind, didn’t it? What should have been a great month where I celebrated the work of LGBTQ writers and stories, became something else entirely. The death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests made a huge impact all over the world. It’s something we’ve all experienced before but something feels different this time. Although, I say that in July when it’s apparent that the media are already changing the narrative. I hope we don’t get to the end of the month and find that we’re all back to how we were before. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Today is for looking back on the past 30 days.
One of the things I’m tired of hearing about George Floyd is when people keep bringing up the fact that he had a criminal record. As if that, in some way, makes his death acceptable. That the fact that he was once in prison makes it okay that a police officer put his knee on George’s kneck for almost 8 minutes. Why does it matter who George was or what he was doing at the time? Nothing should be able to justify the death of a man regardless of what they’ve done. And what about all of those white men who were arrested for mass shootings? How many of them are still alive in prison despite murdering people? I mean Nikolas Cruz shot 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018. He was arrested “without incident”. Without incident? All George Floyd was arrested for was allegedly using a counterfeit $20 note. Allegedly. And he was killed. A 19-year-old white kid shot 17 other kids and was arrested “without incident”. And people still don’t think systemic racism exists? It’s bullshit.
One important thing to think about at times of civil unrest is how to explain the situation to young people. Parents need to find a way to make sure their children understand why people are angry and how we have reached this point. It’s all very well and good doing anti-racist reading for myself but what about anti-racist reading lists for children? How can you possibly help a child come to terms with the idea of systemic racism and how it explains the death of innocent people? You don’t want to traumatise them or make them too fearful of society. However, you need to understand that people are protesting for good reasons. That the violence of the Black Lives Matter movement is different from the violence performed by police officers. So, I decided to check out some fiction intended for a younger audience. Just to see what’s out there.