Saturday, August 14, 2010

Summer Reading: abandoned books and The Slave Ship: A Human History.

I go through phases where I don't finish reading what I started. Right now I'm in one of these phases. I have a pile of books beside my bed. Half lie open where I abandoned them.

I haven't come up with a satisfactory reason for why I go through these phases. Its certainly not that my taste suddenly and inexplicably turns to shit or that I hit a patch of bad books. All but one of the abandoned books that lie next my bed are good and I would like to finish them some day. The good ones are Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar, Promise of a Dream: remembering the sixties by Sheila Rowbotham, The England's Dreaming Tapes by Jon Savage, The Crying of Lot '49 by Thomas Pynchon and Engels: A Revolutionary Life by John Green. The bad one is Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus, which Stewart Home deservedly obliterates in a fantastic manner in Cranked Up Really High. Nor is it some sort of neo-romantic explanation where the book doesn't click with who I am. The only thing I can fathom is that its somehow symptomatic of my summer which has consisted of the previously structured activity of working and teaching being replaced by working two days a week and spending the rest of my time working on my thesis. For some reason this type of activity makes me listless while sapping my attention span.

However, I am now close to finishing a book: The Slave Ship: a Human History, which I spotted looking for Sunday reading at the library, forever proving I'm an odd duck with unconventional interests.

The book, by Marcus Rediker, has a structure and approach that make me think of Evergreen. This is because Rediker, a historian at Pittsburgh, gives a social history from the bottom up that incorporates the different classes and types of people on slave ships, their coercive relations and the technology that ensured these relations. As can be imagined it is work, that like Mike Davis' books, is numbing in the proliferation of death, dehumanization and brutality. But it is also humanizing in giving names and stories to the previously anonymous Africans coerced into slavery, as well as in providing an explanation of how sailors were economically coerced into working on slave ships where they served as de-facto prison guards. Although such things are meant to be behind us, as Rediker says this chilling and compelling portrait of the wooden factory of slave ships also serves as an essential aspect of the prehistory of capitalism, sharing many parallels with the factories and prisons of today. I look forward to reading his The Many Headed Hydra: sailors, slaves, commoners, and the hidden history of the Revolutionary Atlantic.

1 comment:

Aliblahblah said...

I so get you with the book abandonment. I read and read and devore books at a scary rate and buy more and more and suddenly can't get past the first few chapters in each and they lie scattered around gathering dust until I eventually take them to the charity store or give them another go - where usually I end up reading them but once in a while they will have a few pages read and then they will be put down again for me to try again another day. I think I have book attention problems like a seasonal thing or something ☺