Things I’m Reading Thursday #16
So, a very strange week this week. Assessment season is in full swing at work, so I’ve been marking papers and invigilating exams left, right and centre. That in itself doesn’t leave a great deal of time for reading, but add into the mix my relationship ending and you have a recipe for total meltdown.
Yes, those of you know know us… you read that right. Boy and I have decided to call it quits after five years together. It seems strange to “announce” it here, but Boy has been heavily involved in helping to run One Night Stanzas and Read This Magazine from the very beginning, so he’s definitely a part of “the team,” as much as any of my fellow editors are. It’s all been very amicable and we’re still good friends (we’re even still flatsharing at the moment!), but it has meant I haven’t had much time for reading books!
So I’m still working my way through The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike… but because I didn’t write anything about it last week I kind of feel like that’s OK. It’s my first experience of Updike, and I was inspired to go out and buy it after reading Margaret Atwood’s review of it in Curious Pursuits. It really is like no other book I’ve ever read. I really like Updike’s style, and I particularly love the depictions of his women. Not just the three witches, but the wives and daughters of Eastwick, too — his insight into the female psyche is so spot-on that it’s bordering on creepy. Because I haven’t got to the end yet, I’m still waiting for the big (and, I suspect, catastrophic) payoff that I know is coming… but I’m also dying to finish the novel so I can move on to the sequel, The Widows of Eastwick. It really is brilliant stuff. Read it, no matter what your taste in fiction… it’s that good!
War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern Times by Linda Polman
I’ve also just started reading Linda Polman’s newest book, which looks at the history of humanitarian aid and examines its effectiveness in various recent conflict and disaster zones. The book basically asks “does aid sometimes do more harm than good?”, and questions the rules of impartiality by which almost all humanitarian aid agencies are bound.
I’ve only just started the book — I’m about halfway through the second section — but it’s already an eye-opener. It’s garnered some unfavourable reviews for being one-sided, but since “the other side of the story” is told every day all over the mass media (do you ever hear any message about humanitarian aid other than “it is good. Donate to Oxfam already”?), I’m inclined to think that’s OK. Polman just wants to push against the popular misconception that all aid agencies are whiter-than-white and all humanitarian aid is distributed fairly and wisely. Personally, I see nothing wrong with that; and from what I’ve read so far I think she does it pretty effectively, too.
Sure, at times it sounds like “a rant”, as one rather anal Amazon reviewer claims. But if you’d been to the refugee camp at Goma and seen aid agencies feeding, pampering and enabling the fallen genocidal government from their plush hotel headquarters, you’d probably feel pretty ranty about it too, no? And the same anal Amazon reviewer also seems annoyed that Polman hasn’t really covered His Particular Favourite Conflict here… but one of the book’s better qualities is that it’s part-memoir. Polman recounts her own experiences working as a journalist in various conflict and disaster zones. The ones she never went to don’t get as much coverage as the ones she spent a lot of time in… this strikes me (and probably anyone else with half a brain) as common sense.
I don’t know why I feel so keen to spring to this book’s side and defend it. It’s not a book I would normally have chosen to read, but after reading a review of it in the paper I impulsively ordered a copy. And I like Polman — I like her unashamed rants, and I like the accessibility of what should really be a very difficult book. Sure, if you’re very informed about the subject already you might feel able to pick holes in this choice of approach, but since I always just wholeheartedly bought into Big Charity’s PR, I’ve been surprised, dismayed and captivated by War Games… and I only started it yesterday. Definitely a recommendation if you’re even vaguely interested in such things.
What are you reading this week?