Below you can dip into a timely and thoughtful selection of novels, poems, works of non-fiction and children’s books – among dozens of works shared and discussed during the third annual #CroakeyREAD, moderated by Croakey editors Dr Ruth Armstrong and Amy Coopes.
Warm thanks to everyone who contributed.
Dr Ruth Armstrong hosts #CroakeyREAD
So we’ve asked a few people to share their pandemic reading insights and tips tonight. If you’ve not had time or bandwidth, you’re not alone. But #CroakeyREAD is not an erudition competition. If nothing else, Twitter caters to the short attention span, so sit back and relax.
This year’s #CroakeyREAD is but a few fleeting hours in the middle of what’s been a year of upheavals. Most people’s lives have been changed in some way by their COVID-19 experiences and it feels like we, as a country, are raw with some of the social fallout.
First a #CroakeyREAD tip for an ongoing font of reading from @Keziah_bb, a Torres Strait Islander woman w/strong connections to Dharawal Country & Program Manager, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Program, at The George Institute.
The account is featuring at @IndigenousX this week and can be found on Instagram, @blackfulla_bookclub.
Says Keziah: What I love about BlackfullaBookclub is that it is a platform initiated by two inspiring women @teelareid & @merindadutton/@min_dutton that puts a spotlight on celebrating First Nations writers. Considering cultural diversity in the books that we read is incredibly important. The more opportunities we have to read and share the work of First Nations thinkers and writers allows us to engage with the world from a perspective different from the dominant colonial settler narrative/worldview.
Associate Professor Lesley Russell
Dr Penelope Fotheringham
Rehabilitation physician Dr Martin Low
Dr Louis Peachey
See the extract cited above by Dr Louis Peachey (NB: racist, offensive language).
Amy Coopes hosts #CroakeyREAD
By way of brief introduction, if we haven’t yet been acquainted, my name is Amy and I am a final-year medical student getting perilously close to graduation, as well as a general roustabout for Croakey News. I’ll be talking this evening about a post-#COVID19 world.
It’s been such an unthinkably momentous year for us all, but particularly those (many millions) of us who have gone from #bushfirecrisis to #COVID19, seemingly (sometimes quite literally) without breath, and into the historic #blacklivesmatter movement.
Two of my favourite books from last year were @IjeomaOluo’s So You Want To Talk About Race, and Ruby Hamad’s White Tears/Brown Scars. Both have so much to offer at this specific moment, and should be compulsory reading.
Now, for those of you who are long-term followers (apologies), you know I would be lying if I said I hadn’t voraciously consumed several pandemic tomes this year #COVID19. I’m yet to top Spillover by @DavidQuammen, but I did enjoy @UNMC_DrKhan’s The Next Pandemic.
I also read @sandrahempel’s The Atlas of Disease, which I didn’t love *as* much, but which has the most incredible illustrations and reproductions of old public health posters. I promise these are my only #COVID19 stan tweets for the rest of the evening.
My rather ambitious gambit for this evening was to talk about books or other writing that offer us a path out of these unprecedented pandemic times, and I am really hoping you’ll chime in with some thoughts. Are we living a dystopia? Are we about to enter one?
The thing that has really struck me about writing that seeks to look ahead is that there is no path except through the mirror of the now. This is why we crave the apocrypha of the apocalypse. It’s why, more than ever, we need uncomfortable truths.
It’s also why we need writers now more than ever to lift that looking glass. Arundhati Roy: “In the midst of this terrible despair it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.”
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next,” she wrote.
“We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice & hatred, our avarice, our data banks & dead ideas, our dead rivers & smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly…ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
We’ve had some interesting chats in #CroakeyREAD of yore around books for kids, and I’d love to know what people have been reading their children around #COVID19, #blacklivesmatter and the #ClimateCrisis?
I have also *loved* the recent calls to turf (pardon the pun) Harry Potter for A Wizard of Earthsea, one of my most favourite books as a kid. Race, sexuality, gender. The kind of critical thinking you want to encourage your kids to do.
There are heaps of practical implications of course, and many I think which dovetail into climate questions. (More on that in a minute). But there are, as ever with such shifts, bigger questions. Who are we, where are we going, who do we want to be?
Someone said to me early on in iso that they had heard a psychiatrist talking about how, in times of trauma (this being such an event), people regress to ways of coping that last helped them in a crisis. Helped make sense of why I was suddenly rereading philosophers
Primo Levi is speaking to me again. Foucault, Benjamin. Irigaray and Butler (of course <3) But very much Paulo Freire. “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral”
Freire was my first encounter with anything like theory, philosophy, even politics. I remember, vividly, it just opening my mind and giving me a language, a frame of reference. It’s apposite to reflect on all of this as the government radically strips the humanities
“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception, but the rule… It is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against fascism” That’s Benjamin.
This is, I spose, the stuff of fiction, in the sense that, as alluded to in the piece I shared earlier, the pandemic is rewriting our imaginations. But what might the post-#COVID19 world look like? Some of the themes are the same I’ve heard from climate scientists.
It makes sense that these narratives intersect, involving the same protagonists. Capitalism. Globalisation. Degradation. All are catalysts for pandemic & species extinction. But the ways we have responded to & emerge from #COVID19 also matter for the #climatecrisis.
Working from home, cooking (and growing) rather than eating out. Global supply chains (and the gig economy) horribly exposed. Travel seeming (for now) like a distant memory. People cycling, cities are cleaner. Life is truly local.
So. Now I have thoroughly embarrassed myself by revealing that, while you have all been baking sourdough and watching Netflix, I’ve been reading poetry and Pedagogy of the Oppressed, I’ll attempt to redeem myself with some future-gazing.
I remember being told by an academic last year that the solutions to the #ClimateCrisis lay in local actions, not in terms of emissions, but that they would build the momentum needed for a global movement. I was quite skeptical, but I can totally see it now.
Another thing we have seen, which is so salutory for those of us advocating in the #ClimateCrisis space, is a renewed reliance on and trust in expertise, in public health, and an incredible (and swift) political consensus, even leadership (shock, I know)
While we are acting local, there is a difficult corollary, which is that #COVID19 will feed fragmentation of global consensus, driving isolationist and divisive rhetoric and emboldening leaders with these agendas. How will this impact climate action?
The @wef has pulled together a formidable lineup to look at some of the big post-#COVID19 questions, which I really recommend. Authors include @HonJulieBishop, @SharanBurrow & @Winnie_Byanyima on health as the ultimate global public good.
Intimacy, patriotism. The safety net. The common good. Community. Telemedicine, virtual reality. Big government. Democracy in all its forms (protest, voting). Less consumption, more inequality. Cooking, community spaces. Habit, change. Everything is on the table
I know that wasn’t strictly in the #croakeyREAD theme but loving books doesn’t preclude you from being a wonk, particularly not if you’re following this discussion, so I hope you will forgive me. Thank you to everyone who has dropped in this evening, it’s been so great
I will finish up with a few more poems, and a very glum aside that @SatPaper is no longer publishing this beautiful page [of poetry], which was the highlight of my weekend. I encourage you to read them all.
Thanks to all who dropped by with recommendations
(See reports from previous #CroakeyREAD events.)