Summer Reading Jumps Right Off the Front Page
Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Monday, October 3 / 22
I love to read! Many of the memes you may see on social media, about people addicted to books, libraries and bookstores, easily describe me. For instance, two of my favourites are the wife phoning 911 when her husband is buried under a fallen pile of unread books next to his side of the bed. The other is the person lined up with yet another arm load of books at the bookstore or library check-out with a thought-balloon saying “but I don’t gamble, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke...etc.”
As I’ve written in this column a few times in the past, I believe that one of the shortcomings in our culture that has led to on-going social problems is that people don’t read, whether it is reading our history, reading widely from different cultural perspectives, reading about current events, and so on. Ill-informed or uninformed citizens end up substituting opinion or conspiracy theory for knowledge and understanding.
Three books that I read this past summer really do jump off the front pages of our newspapers. One was about the history of Ukraine with a focus on recent times. It was recently revised and updated to reflect the latest developments. Another was about the refugee and migrant crisis as it is being played out in the Middle East and Southern Europe. Just the other day, yet another overloaded boat sank, causing numerous deaths, including whole families. And the third was a believable scenario about a possible, coming Third World War. With Mr. Putin threatening nuclear reprisals, welcome to a world on the brink!
Anna Reid, an English journalist, lived and worked in Kiev in the mid-90s as a correspondent for the respected magazine, The Economist. An Oxford-educated author, she has produced several books on Russian and Eastern European History. The book I read was Borderland, A Journey Through the History of Ukraine. Ukraine actually means “borderland” and that is indicative of the historical attitude Russia demonstrates toward that geographic area currently under siege. Borderland is a history of the last thousand years of that part of the world but reads like a travelogue with lots of local colour and personal interviews. I came out of this reading experience with a much greater appreciation and understanding of what is happening, tragically, there now.
Omar El Akkad, an Egyptian-Canadian novelist, won the 2021 Giller Prize for What Strange Paradise, a gripping story of a boatload of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean in search of a better life, and what happens upon their being washed up in Southern Europe. This experience is largely depicted through the eyes of a child who survives the voyage. El Akkad’s previous novel, American War, depicted a United States of America after a second Civil War which was fought not about slavery but in response to the impact of climate change. Read either or both of his books to feel yourself right on the front lines of today’s major world challenges.
Elliott Ackerman and Jim Stavridis are two American ex-military officers and once highly-placed White House advisers who have co-written a frightening book, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War. If you are wondering about China’s sabre rattling in the wake of Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, or Putin’s sabre rattling during his war on Ukraine, or the current place of the US in global geopolitics, or the connections of many rogue regimes to different alliances, and so much more, it all comes together in this can’t-put-it-down novel. Every political leader should be aware that the military decisions they make – and this is true today – can potentially hurt their own people and deeply impact our planet much more than gain them any territory or power.
There are powerful messages in the books that I’ve covered in this column, the greatest one being that global problems (and likely personal ones, too) that are not resolved, or are resolved by violence, will crop up again and cause even more trouble in the future. Our world currently faces compelling issues that, in some cases, are being dealt with not by patience, analysis and negotiation, but by arbitrariness and confrontation. Therefore, the health of our population, our planet and our democracy are in jeopardy.
We must do better.
Zack Gross is Board Chair of The Marquis Project, a Brandon-based international development organization, and co-author of the new book The Fair Trade Handbook: Building a Better World, Together.
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