For David Gilmour: A Reading List

The internet’s a bit like Halloween — people feel free to say things behind a mask that they would never say to your face. Last week it was the whole Miley/Sinead thing, where a musician of a certain generation chastised another musician of a certain other generation, in the guise of helpful advice, regarding the younger musician’s sexually provocative performance. Sinead was accused of slut-shaming (not without warrant) and generally being crazy (cruel and uncalled for); Miley then responded by attacking Sinead’s mental health, damaging what credibility she may have had, which resulted in Sinead escalating the conflict to rather silly heights.

This kind of thing is truly unfortunate, focusing attention on disagreements among women while we pretend that a frank discussion about women’s freedom of expression can take place in a neutral, bias-free forum. There are so many things to discuss with this fascinating dust-up beyond one woman’s mental instability and another’s bratty response. Is Miley Cyrus expressing her own sexuality in an empowering way, or is she pandering to male tastes in order to sell records? Is sexuality unique and innate to the individual or socially constructed? And if it is a social construct, how can women claim their bodies for themselves in a sexist culture? How much freedom do female artists have in the commodified world of popular culture? Is there a line between “artists” and pop culture “personalities”? Should there be?

ANYWAY, previous to that kerfuffle, was the David Gilmour ballyhoo. In a brief interview that you can read on the Random House Hazlitt page, Gilmour, without a trace of self-awareness, revealed that he doesn’t teach female writers (or Canadians) in his class at the University of Toronto because he only teaches what he loves, and he doesn’t love any female writers, apart from Virginia Woolf. (Apparently he teaches a course on short fiction. Without mentioning Alice Munro or Mavis Gallant, one supposes.)

I’m sure David Gilmour is a very nice man.  And if you’re reading for pleasure, you should be able to read whatever you like. But he’s teaching a class. And in that capacity he has an obligation to encourage open-mindedness, empathy, critical thinking and curiosity.

Many teachers would say that they learn as much from their students as their students learn from them. In that spirit, I decided to ask some people what they thought David Gilmour should read. I especially wanted to hear from the demographic that might sit in one of David Gilmour’s classes. (Two of my respondents did, in fact, take his class “Love, Sex, and Death” at U of T. One of them dropped out, the other stuck it through to the end.)

So, here you go, David Gilmour. A list of titles hand-picked just for you!

 

To start off in Gilmour’s comfort zone, Peter suggested A Boy at the Leafs’ Camp by Scott Young because “there are no icky girls in it except Bill Spunkska’s mum.”

Wetlands by Charlotte Roche was Maria’s pick for Gilmour.  In her words, “I think he has the stomach for it.” I haven’t read this book, but I must be one of the few people who hasn’t, because according to Wikipedia, in March 2008 it was the best-selling novel in the world! I’m not sure how much love and death there is in it, but there’s lots of sex. Weird, girly sex.

According to a couple of his students, one of Gilmour’s favourite tropes was middle-aged men going to Paris and  having affairs. So Muna thought he should read Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. In this book a man goes to Paris and has an affair. Just the kind of book Gilmour loves, except that the characters are gay.

Emma suggested Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro, which she read “in two separate classes taught by male professors.” Apparently some men are able to recognize the brilliance of Munro’s ability to bring fully realized characters to life with a few deft strokes of the pen.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was Shirley’s pick for Gilmour because “seriously, he could have inspired it.” The thing about Margaret Atwood’s speculative fiction is that to some of us, it doesn’t seem farfetched.

Katie had two choices for David Gilmour. The first suggestion was Bear by Marian Engel, which is written by a Canadian woman (two strikes against it there) and features some hot girl on bear action. The second was Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by bell hooks. Race, class, gender, and pedagogy — ooh, a heady mix, and perfect for this list.

And finally, two suggestions from Diyaa: Beloved by Toni Morrison and The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Because, in Diyaa’s words, “I think Mr. Gilmour thinks only “Serious Heterosexual Men” write about Serious Things. Well he’s most definitely wrong.”

Have a suggestion to add? Let me know in the comments!

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood: A review

 

 

MaddAddam

 

“Another Plague Year would reconcile all these Differences, a close conversing with Death, or the Diseases that threaten Death, would scum off the Gall from our Tempers, remove the Animosities among us, and bring us to see with differing Eyes, than those which we look’d on Things with before.” — Daniel Dafoe, A Journal of the Plague Year

 

If you had to start the world all over again, what would you keep from the old one? Whom would you let in and whom would you exclude? And how would you avoid making the same mistakes as before?

MaddAddam is the final book in the dystopian trilogy by Margaret Atwood that began with Oryx and Crake, and continued with Year of the Flood. If it’s been a while since you read the first two, don’t worry – there’s a quick synopsis at the beginning of the book to refresh your memory. MaddAddam brings the characters from the first two books together. The global pandemic is over, and Toby, Ren, Amanda, Jimmy, and the Crakers who were under Jimmy’s protection,  find themselves reunited with the MaddAddamites. They eke out a living with simple agriculture and foraging, and do the best they can to protect their borders from pigoons and the Painballers who kidnapped Amanda. Alternating with this narrative is the story of Zeb’s past, including his relationship with Adam One and the beginnings of God’s Gardeners.

There’s enough urgency to both narratives to keep you turning the pages, and Atwood’s prose is clear, fluid, and flecked with her trademark dry humour. We learn much more about Zeb and Adam (although Adam remains as enigmatic and mysterious as Crake) and the chaotic and violent world before the pandemic. Where the first two books focused on the survival of individuals in the immediate aftermath of the global disaster, MaddAddam looks forward, as the collective begins to rebuild  and form alliances with others, including the pigoons and the Crakers, Crake’s engineered, peace-loving humanoids with the uncanny singing voices and ability to purr.

The Crakers and humans must accept and learn from each other, and the most satisfying central relationship of the book is not between Toby and Zeb,(which felt a little flat for me) but between Toby and Blackbeard, a Craker boy whom she befriends and teaches to read and write. Storytelling is at the heart of the novel; what we choose to tell, and how we tell it, is important:

There’s the story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told. Then there’s what you leave out of the story. Which is part of the story too.

But storytelling quickly becomes mythmaking which becomes theology. After Toby has taught Blackbeard to write his name, she observes him showing the other Craker children:

Now what have I done? she thinks. What can of worms have I opened? They’re so quick, these children: they’ll pick this up and transmit it to all the others.

What comes next? Rules, dogmas, laws? The Testament of Crake? How soon before there are ancient texts they feel they have to obey but have forgotten how to interpret? Have I ruined them?

Other choices and decisions must be made too, the basic ones of how to find food, and the more complicated ones of who to trust and include in your new society:

What to eat, where to shit, how to take shelter, who and what to kill: are these the basics? thinks Toby. Is this what we’ve come to, or come down to; or else come back to?

And who do you love? And who loves you? And who loves you not? And, come to think of it, who seriously hates you.

This is a book of ideas but it never feels exclusively so. Atwood brings her characters to life, and much of the reading enjoyment is in observing the interactions of the new community as they sort out the emotional entanglements of love, jealousy, ambition, and pride, and attempt to establish the values and needs of the group. Personalities and generations clash, egos must be suppressed, love satisfied and quirks tolerated. Atwood avoids one of the common pitfalls of satire — an arch tone that invites the reader to make judgements rather than sympathize.  The main target of her satire — the pre-pandemic society alienated from nature and obsessed with personal gratification — is so similar to the world we live in now that, although amusingly and sometimes chillingly portrayed, it barely feels exaggerated.

At the moving conclusion of this wonderful and enthralling trilogy, the future for this post-apocalyptic world is a hopeful one, as the inhabitants decide what will be valued: storytelling, compassion and community, and a sense of gratitude and respect for the diverse life of the planet. Perhaps we could avoid the disastrous circumstances that Margaret Atwood suggests are in our future if we valued those things now.