14 April 2021. It has been a tough few months. After the attack of last October, which resulted in two surgeries – I now have two plates holding my jaw together and another in my mouth to hold implants in place – I also had spinal surgery in January. I’m pleased to say that all is well. Except, of course, because of Covid restrictions, I have not gone walkabout for weeks, and one of the conditions for fully recovering from the spinal surgery was that I should walk at least a couple of kilometres a day. Well, between avoiding all humans, and writing for a living I am deskbound for most of every day.
I haven’t done much (book) reading. Most significantly, I have started/continued reading:
- The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Green.
- Too Black to Wear Whites: The Remarkable Story of Krom Hendricks, a Cricket Hero who was Rejected by Cecil John Rhodes’s Empire, by Jonty Winch and Richard Parry
I have also continued reading chapters of The Lockdown Collection, edited by Melinda Ferguson. The book is an anthology of sorts, with contributions from some of South Africa’s best writers and journalists, and how the first few months of the Covid Pandemic has affected their lives and day-to-day routines. I wrote one of the contributions. This was the second book on the topic published by Melinda Ferguson, and featuring a handful of writers. The first was an e-book. Explains Melinda:
“At the end of March, my first response against creative suicide Lockdown The Corona Chronicles, was published after a group of 17… authors, under my benevolent whip, got an e-book together in just 7 days”.Melinda Ferguson, The Lockdown Collection. Compiler/Publisher’s Note, p8
Anyway, most of my reading continues to be academic papers and essays, news reports and analyses from publications as far and wide as the South China Morning Post, Malaysiakini, The New Straits Times, to the Financial Times, London Review of Books and the Guardian, The Hindu (and whatever else I can get online in India) to the LA Times and Commondreams.
26 December 2020. I have been drifting away from reading 20 or 30 books a year to reading fewer than 10, and a unimaginable amount of academic papers and essays, in print and online. The past year, I have read a small handful of books, and reread a few others.
I’m currently reading
- So, For the Record: Behind the Headlines in an Era of State Capture, by Anton Harber
- Too Black to Wear Whites: The Remarkable Story of Krom Hendricks, a Cricket Hero who was Rejected by Cecil John Rhodes’s Empire, written by Jonty Winch and Richard Perry.
The books I finished reading this year are
- Edward Luce’s The Retreat of Western Liberalism;
- The Fate of the West: The Battle to Save the World’s Most Successful Political Idea (I started reading the latter late last year):
- Swing Time by Zadie Smith;
- Encountering Apartheid’s Ghosts: From Krugersdorp to Constitution Hill by Leon Wessels;
- Elif Shafak’s 10 Minutes 38 Second in this Strange World;
- Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist’s Cafe: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails;
- Firefighting: The Financial Crisis and it’s Lessons by Ben S Bernanke, Timothy Gethner and Henry Paulson,
- Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World, by Adam Tooze.
- Arundathi Roy’s The God of Small Things,
- A few Chapters of A Doctor in the House: The Memoirs of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, by the former Prime Minister of Malaysia,
- Selected essays in Known and Strange Things, by Teju Cole,
- Chinua Achebe’s There was a Country: A personal history of Biafra
- A few chapters of Ian Kershaw’s To Hell and Back: Europe 1914 – 1949.
- Thoughts on the New South Africa by Neville Alexander
- One or two sections of Susan Sontag’s On Photography,
- Inside Apartheid’s Prison, by Raymond Suttner.
Two books I finally got to may be regarded as good scholarship, but parts of them made me particularly angry.
- Pumla Dineo Gqola’s What is Slavery to Me: Post-Colonial/Slave Memory in Post-Apartheid South Africa, and
- Gabeba Baderoon’s Regarding Muslims: From Slavery to Post-Apartheid.
I started reading, Dennis Cruywagen’s The Spiritual Mandela: Faith and Religion in the Life of South Africa’s Great Statesman, but lost interest. I suspect I won’t get back to it in any serious way. I also suspect that I may have left out a few books, or chapters of books I have read in 2020.
Away from books
It is almost impossible to list the amount of essays and papers I have read in 2020. It could be anything from 30 to 100, and covered my main interests: Political Economy; Global Economic Governance; Photography; Memory; Architecture; Physics, Astronomy and Cosmology. At the start of the year I waded through about 20 papers on fascism over January and February for a project, which came to an abrupt halt because of the Lockdown and restriction of movement, and social contact as part of preventing the spread of Covid-19.
Some of the essays were from academic journals, but very many were from publications like the London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, Harper’s, the LA Review of Books, the Paris Review, the Times Literary Supplement, New Scientist, Quantum Magazine and Physics World.
I also spend at least two hours a day reading news and analyses from around the world (BBC, The Financial Times, The Straits Times, Malaysiakini, South China Morning Post). Over the past 10 years I have come to rely less and less on the New York Times and Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune and the LA Times, Newsweek and Time for daily news. I really no longer see the point of reading these newspapers.
And then there are the podcasts… I subscribe to tens of podcasts from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and it’s Science Casts, to the Guardian’s Football Weekly and The Tuesday Club.
Reading in 2021
I suspect that I will read even fewer books next year, in part because books are either becoming more expensive, or this life as a struggling writer is becoming more difficult. I will, however, get Brian Greene’s latest book, Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe. (It costs almost R500), and You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place by Janelle Shane, and anything else on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics I can lay my hands on. I am especially intrigued by the intersection of neuroscience and artificial intelligence/robotics; the ethics are a matter of concern.
And so, as I write this in 2020, nine months into a global pandemic, next year is another country. I suspect I will be getting most of what I read from online sources – and listen to very many podcasts.