The danger of a little education

sometimes I wonder if the PhD has wrecked my reading-for-pleasure part of my brain forever. I’m reading BC Book World, a nicely put together freebie newspaper that advertises the wondrous array of publications that come out of this amazing province. The current issue is Summer 2017 with a pic of Wade Davis on the cover. The range of books being discussed is truly fantastic, many of them coming from small presses. But the articles are really adverts rather than reviews because, basically, what they do is describe the author and content, some context yet with absolutely no criticism, in the literary/scholarly/intellectual sense, entailed in the writing. What I mean by that is that the ‘reviewers’ do not challenge the authors of the books, the subject matter, nor do they contextualise the author or book in a broader sense. Some of the reviewers are academics btw, yet they do not appear to apply their critical faculties to the job.

Sometimes the book authors are quoted and their statements are ridiculous and left entirely unchallenged. John Gellard, for example, reviews David Suzuki & Ian Hanington’s new book Just Cool It : the Climate Crisis and What We Can Do About It and quotes a number of the author’s recommendations that we can do so much for our environment. But Gellard doesn’t point out how absurd some of the author’s recommendations are, primarily because most of these recommendations clearly do not, cannot, apply to anyone other than a privileged and predominantly urban segment of our society. For example: ‘use fuel-efficient cars or electric cars’; ‘cultivate habits of bicycling, walking, and using public transportation instead of cars’; ‘insulate our homes and use energy-efficient lighting’; ‘install solar panels on our houses’; ‘buy less “stuff” and waste less’, and ‘eat less meat and, by composting, waste less food’. Now don’t get me wrong, all of these are worthy endeavours but for a huge proportion of BC citizens cars are out of reach, never mind elite electric or ‘fuel-efficient’ hybrids. Ditto ‘cultivat[ing] habits of bicycling …’. Well I’ve been stuck in Squamish (trying to retrieve my truck where it’s been getting fixed up at Function Junction & my companion is working off-grid) for the past several days because the public transit here is the shits quite frankly, and prohibitively expensive – so I can’t imagine ‘cultivating’ cycling/walking/busing’ here esp. if I had a job in the service industry to get to in Whistler for example. As for insulating our homes, energy-efficient lighting, and solar panels – anybody looked at the cost of housing in most of BC recently? Who but the privileged can own homes here, and if you do manage to squeak into a mortgage who but the privileged can afford solar panels etc. etc.? Of all the recommendations it is the ‘eat less meat’ that cracks me up the most. Only the privileged would even consider this. I don’t know any low-income people who eat much meat. It’s simply too expensive.

And so this is where I think the PhD has wrecked me. Why can’t I just enjoy the read for the read’s sake?

The review by Mary-Ellen Kelm, titled ‘Genocide in Slow Motion,’ is about the book “Medicine Unbundled: a Journey Through the Minefields of Indigenous Health Care”, by Gary Geddes. Geddes reveals the First Nations experience of a segregated Indigenous health care system of the last century (Indian hospitals) and presents a harrowing précis of the era. While the article on the Geddes book certainly is worth reading, what is missing is that the reviewer, an academic, never questions Geddes’s methodology of collecting first-person narratives, his acceptance of these narratives as truth (and I’m NOT suggesting they are untruthful), nor, importantly, does the reviewer consider the absence of first-person narratives in the Geddes book – those of the former health-care providers who worked in the system, or at least any documentary evidence left behind by these people. Further, I challenge statements made by the reviewer such as the following in which she quotes an informant from Geddes’ book: ‘Listening, as it turns out, can be a problem for Canadians. As Joanie Morris puts it, ‘the problem I have with white people is that they don’t listen.’ Say what? Since when is the word ‘Canadians’ synonymous with ‘white people’ – and yet this is the implication by the reviewer (and I smell middle-class white guilt in this btw, tho I couldn’t determine Kelm’s heritage from her online presence). Then I argue, if ‘Canadians’ don’t listen, then wtf is the 6-year long Commission on Truth and Reconciliation and the resultant actions and programming that is rolling out daily throughout the country? Kelm just rolls over this in her article.

I could go on, but I won’t. Because it will just prove what I suspect. And that is that the PhD has utterly ruined my reading pleasure. My critical skills are the antithesis of pleasurable, relaxing reading – there are just truck-wide critical holes in article after article of BookWorld – a truly nice publication that spreads the word far and wide on all the industriousness of BC’s authors. Sadly, there’s nothing I can do about turning off my academic switch, other than hope that time will cure all.

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