WHAT I HAVE BEEN READING LATELY
The Third Pillar by Raghuram Rajan, Penguin Press, $40. Anyone who has followed Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s attempts to change the course of his country’s economy will be familiar with Rahguram Rajan, the former governor of Reserve bank of India who seemed at odds with his boss.
The distinguished University of Chicago professor, a former IMF chief economist, offers a big-picture view of how the pillars of economics work. Our understanding is that the state (and that usually means the federal government of the country that establishes the laws) and the markets (meaning the corporates and the consumers) are the two key pillars that support a nation’s economic infrastructure.
In The Third Pillar, Rajan argues that all economics is actually socioeconomics – all laws and markets are embedded in a web of human relations, values and norms.
Throughout history, he says, industrial and technological advancements have savaged the markets and caused new laws to be written on the fly to counter violent backlashes. This is what we understand as the politics of populism. Many national leaders in countries such as India, Turkey, Brazil and even the United States have wrapped themselves in the cloak of nationalism to justify such measures. The recent demonetization of the Indian currency is just one such example.
The “third pillar” of the title is you and I – the community on which the first two pillars rest.
As the state became constitutionally limited, markets got the upper hand, sometimes to the detriment of communities.
Rajan offers a new way to recalibrate our approach to everyday economics.
A Chameleon from the Land of the Quagga by Joan Bismillah, Friesen Press. Just what is a quagga? It is an extinct beast which, with its varicoloured body should have been adopted as an emblem of the multi-hued society of South Africa, writes Joan Bismillah. And why a chameleon? Skin colour was a vital indicator, and as with a chameleon that changed colour when threatened, colour was an important factor that determined survival... Like the chameleon, I adapted to my environment and donned whatever garb was suitable to the occasion.
She had a European birth certificate, the man she loved was Indian. Inter-racial relationships were forbidden by law and family and friends warned them of the “impropriety” of their relationship, but the two dared to get married. She describes in detail the travails of living and working in a severely stratified society.
...non-European patients did not always receive quite the same consideration as their white counterparts, and that non-European subordinates were definitely not supposed to confront or antagonize their European chiefs.
Her first impression of Canada is of a courteous and welcoming country. Canada, her husband says, “is a refuge from the indignity and terror of Apartheid”. And yet, she doesn’t shy away from describing the darkness of discrimination that lurks beneath the surface in some places.
A love letter to her beloved deceased husband, a personal history that sweeps across decades and continents, a commentary on life in Apartheid South Africa, and finally, a family’s journey in Canada, A Chameleon from the Land of the Quagga is all of these. Beautiful prose and an enviable indelible memory – Joan Bismillah wrote the book when she was 90 – stud the book with jewel-like vignettes.
How To Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, Penguin, $37. When Michael Pollan set out to research how LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) are being used to provide relief to people suffering from depression, addiction and anxiety, he discovered that these substances are also being used by healthy people to deal with the challenges of every day life.
In what is undoubtedly his most personal account, he shares how he explores this in first person as well the third. He blends science, history and medicine into this account of his foray into psychedelics.
I, for one, sincerely hope that the kinds of experiences I’ve had on psychedelics will not be limited to sick people and will someday become more widely available. Does that mean I think these drugs should simply be legalized? Not exactly.
And therein lies a cautionary note for people debating the pros of cons of legalizing marijuana.
Summer by Karl Ove Knausgaard, Knopf Canada, $40. In Winter and Spring, Karl Ove Knausgaard described his universe to his daughter.
Addressing first the unborn child and then the little baby, he shared his thoughts, his views, his secrets. In Summer, he continues to do so, covering everyday objects and sights such as lawn mowers, short trousers and cats to summer nights and slugs, while also lifting the veil from old memories. He also writes about the realization that as he has grown older, he has come to see the truth in Cicero’s belief that all one needed to be happy was a garden and a library.
And the book needs nothing more to claim its place among my favourites.
New Hampshire by Robert Frost, Vintage, $13.50. Even those who are not too fond of poetry can, given the right context, quote Pulitzer prize winner Robert Frost:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
But there’s so much more to Frost. Those who treasure his poems and those who are new to the sheer beauty of his words will all find something that resonates with them in this collection. From the tongue-in-cheek love song to New Hampshire – a state producing precious metals, stones, and writing – to the observation that nothing gold can stay.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
From Fire and Ice:
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favour fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
The Portable Emerson, edited by Jeffrey S. Kramer, Penguin Classics, $26. No man can learn what he has not preparation for learning. This comprehensive edition of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings presents the core of his philosophy. He single-handedly engineered a spiritual and intellectual movement that has shaped and defined the American mind and had a unique view on teaching and learning. I have taught one doctrine, namely, the infinitude of the private man. Editor Jeffrey Kramer offers a breadth of Emerson’s ideas and presents a human portrait of the man.
Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee, Harvill Secker, $34.95. Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant Surrender-not Banerjee have been a team for three years now, fighting crime in India under the British Raj. In Smoke and Ashes, they are called upon to solve two grisly murders while keeping Captain Wyndham’s personal demons secret. A classic whodunnit in the award-winning series.
The Goose Egg by Liz Wong, Knopf, $23.99. An elephant who enjoys her cup of tea in the morning – Darjeeling, no less – and her quiet routine by the lake. Until a baby goose takes over her life. A hilarious tale with a sweet ending.
Sadia Khan’s Teen Review of Glow by Megan E. Bryant, Albert Whitman and Company, $22.99. Glow by Megan E. Bryant is an amazing book centred around the Radium Girls.
These were female factory workers in the United States in the early 1920s who contracted radiation poisoning from painting watch dials with luminous paint. The book is a perfect blend of history and art as it looks at the tragic fate of the Radium Girls in a unique and captivating way and shows the impact of the past on the present.
There’s Julie, whose dreams of going to art school in New York have not flourished. She is determined to find out more about antique paintings she finds at a thrift store. And there’s Liza who paints watch dials during World War I. Her story is told through letters to her beau, Walter, who is a soldier. Readers get to see both their lives and struggles.
The plot is full of suspense and will keep readers on the edge of their seats. The author does a great job of developing her characters and making them easy to relate to. The book shows how family is an essential part of people’s lives and how issues can be resolved to create a stronger bond. This is a book for fans of historic fiction or someone who wants to learn about the Radium Girls and their tragic story.
• Sadia Khan is a grade 10 student and a member of Brampton Library’s Teen Library Council.