Nonfiction Reviews In Brief: bell hooks, African queens, and ivory Vikings

bell hooks, Outlaw Culture. Routledge Classics, 2006. (Originally published 1994.)

I’d never really grasped the ways in which bell hooks is a foundational thinker for intersectional feminism before picking up this collection of essays. It is an uneven essay collection, and its referents are now nearly a quarter-century out of date, but much of what she has to say doesn’t seem radical to me – in part because over those two and a half decades, they became part of the approaches to feminism that predominate among the people from whom I learned about feminist theory and praxis. (They are still radical, mind you.)

Reading this collection has made me want to read more of bell hooks’ work, which is an excellent thing for any collection.

 

 Linda M. Heywood, Njinga of Angola: Africa’s Warrior Queen. Harvard University Press, 2017.

I want to write more about this biography of a 17th-century African queen who just did not quit and seems to have been immensely astute as a war-leader, as a diplomat, and as a politician overall (except possibly in arranging the inheritance of her kingdom, but one cannot blame someone for not keeping things in order after they’re dead). But in brief, it is a fascinating examination of a woman who the Portuguese colonisers saw as a “devil queen,” and of her context.

 

Nancy Marie Brown, Ivory Vikings. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016. (Originally published 2015.)

Brown uses the Lewis chessmen, famous pieces found on the island of Lewis in Scotland in the early 19th century, as a lens through which to examine the late medieval Scandinavian world, its trade connections, and its culture. Brown is interested in the origins of the Lewis chessmen, and sets forth the arguments for where they might have been made, although it is clear her sympathies lie with the theory which ascribes them to Iceland in the late 12th or very early 13th century. (Brown makes a persuasive stab at ascribing them to the hand of an individual ivory-carver, a women named as Margaret the Adroit in the Saga of Bishop Pall – not a saga that has been translated into English.)

Brown is a careful historian, nuanced in her treatment of the evidence, and cautiously qualifying any sweeping claims. But she is also an imaginative historian, and an evocative one. Her knowledge of the Scandinavian world and the Icelandic sagas shines through, and her ability to write both clearly and entertainingly about matters of which yr. humble correspondent knows very little is a rare gift among historians. This is fun history. I approve of it.

Things I have found interesting recently

Sonya Taaffe has a brilliant story in the most recent installment of Ideomancer, “ζῆ καὶ βασιλεύει.” Absolutely magnificent.

Arkady Martine has an excellent story in Strange Horizons, “City of Salt.”

Beth Bernobich is Kickstarting a novelette, Nocturnall.

Foz Meadows has an amazing essay on GIFsets and the changing face of criticism.

Speaking of Foz, she encouraged me into watching the first season of The 100, out of which – among other things – came this exchange. Which amused me.

The Washington Post has an article on an early medieval Viking female burial that included a ring with “For Allah” inscribed on it in Kufic script.

I binge-watched all four seasons of Legend of Korra and should probably stop looking at art of Korra and/or Asami like these prints at some point. (But not yet.)

I want to go to this production of the Bakkhai. It is unlikely I will be able to afford it, especially since it is in London. But NEW ANNE CARSON TRANSLATION.

My brain is slowly growing back into something akin to the ability to focus. I can read books this week. It is a welcome development.