After my quick trip to the UK last month, I’m back in Belgrade again. We made a few stops on our drive back across Europe, but it’s really not a good time to be travelling.
It was, nevertheless, a great time to spend a couple of hours strolling around Venice with no crowds. Here’s the Piazza San Marco as you’ve never seen it on any other August weekend:
Overall, though, I’m glad to be back in one place again. I enjoyed some good non-fiction reading in August, from a history of Black British people to a theory of why the US media makes people hate each other. Here’s my roundup of the books I read in August:
Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga
What I loved about this book was the way it broadened the terrain of Black British history, tracing the presence of people of African ancestry in Britain back to Roman times and also expanding beyond the British Isles to include British colonial activities in Africa and the Caribbean. The downside is that it skipped quite quickly through the more recent history, but I guess that’s because it’s been covered more extensively elsewhere. Black and British shines a light on a history that I would argue has not been “forgotten”, but deliberately obscured.
A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe
Regular readers will know I’ve been working my way slowly through some pandemic literature this year. Daniel Defoe’s account has often been treated as memoir, but the dates make that impossible. It seems to be based on his uncle’s diaries, but the extent to which it’s adapted or fictionalised is unknown. Still, it rang true as an account of the London plague of 1665, and many of the events of that year—denial, blame, unequal consequences for rich and poor, inadequate government measures, bizarre rumours—will be familiar to followers of COVID-19.
Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? edited by Maya Shenwar, Joe Macare & Alana Yu-lan Price
Another theme of my reading this year has been policing. The depressing thing is that most of these books were written long before the current protest movement, and yet nothing has changed. The catalogue of police violence against Black people continues amid the same half-hearted promises about reform and improvements. Given yesterday’s news about white supremacist infiltration of US police forces, perhaps it’s not surprising. That’s why people are in the streets. Why should they have any trust in a process that has repeatedly failed them?
Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another by Matt Taibbi
Matt Taibbi delivers an insider view of US political journalism, showing us why reasoned debate is not on the menu. Essentially, conflict is more profitable, even if it means reducing journalism to divisive rhetoric and partisanship. I liked the way he linked sports journalism to political journalism, showing how the same techniques have infiltrated political coverage, so that it’s more about identifying with your ‘team’ and demonising your rivals than about reaching the truth.
I think the main verdict from this month’s reading is that I’m ready for a good novel. These books were all good, but all quite hard to stomach—not because of their writing, but because of the horrible truths they uncover.
Overall, my biggest recommendation from the month is Black and British. The stories in that book were completely absent from my history degree programme, and it’s a valuable corrective to the skewed vision of British history we often get.
How was your reading this month? Let me know your recommendations or reactions in the comments!