February 2014 Reading List: 'From Russia, No Love' Edition

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Photo source: "Beyond Sochi: Photos of Russia by Russians" (described in list below)
While choosing not to watch this month's Olympics in Sochi, Russia, I had plenty of time to stay current on my reading. As uncertainty mounted in Ukraine, here are a few of the most thought-provoking pieces I came across in the last month:

Inside the Iron Closet: What It's Like to be Gay in Putin's Russia (Jeff Sharlet, GQ)
A troubling, detailed account of the Russian LGBT community's many struggles toward acceptance.

Ottomania (Elif Batuman, New Yorker)
Didn't realize that Turkish soap operas are critical cultural reference points for a huge part of the world's population? Guess again. The New Yorker's shrewd Turkey correspondent strips back the layers of often competing identities underlying the popular Ottoman-era drama "Magnificent Century". Insights abound on Turkey's history, current politics, and complex relations with its neighbors and former vassals. Gated, but very highly recommended.

A Syrian Woman's Kitchen in Shatila (Nawara Mahfoud, New Yorker)
A very human snapshot of daily life for Syrian refugees in Shatila, a Palestinian camp in Lebanon where many have settled, stressing already limited access to resources.
(For those seeking worthy political commentary on Syria, see this Economist piece for an essential point: "As long as Bashar Assad thinks he is winning, diplomacy will fail.")

Chronicles of the Veil (Laila Lalami, Los Angeles Review of Books)
Another excellent piece by Laila Lalami, this one on the unintended consequences of Western efforts to "save" Muslim women without first understanding their local contexts, with an exploration of the awkward narratives that feed such efforts.

A Dictator's Guide to Urban Design (Matt Ford, The Atlantic)
Inspired by the recent uprising in Kiev, this piece reviews autocrats' urban planning schemes to discourage dissent and organized protest, from Paris to Pyongyang to Tahrir Square.

Why Do Japanese People Wear Surgical Masks? It's Not Always for Health Reasons (Casey Baseel, Rocket News 24)
More oddities from the most peculiar country on earth—and a topic of interest to frequent travelers accustomed to seeing masked Asians shuffling through airports worldwide. Surgical masks apparently double as warming devices, fashion accessories, modesty aides, and even alleged weight loss devices.

How Would the Media Cover the Superbowl If It Were In Another Country? (Joshua Keating, Slate)
Sweet satire, sweet perspective. It's true, America.

Why We Still Need French (Rob Wile, Business Insider)
A necessary (though admittedly lousy) rebuttal to an even more asinine argument that the French language is useless in our modern world. D'accord avec moi? Then don't miss the Beginner's Guide to Franglais, which includes such gems as le footing, un hard-discounter, and une recordwoman.

Beyond Sochi: Photos of Russia by Russians (Grant Slater, NPR)
These photos were perhaps less successful than the artist intended at rewriting my existing stereotypes of Russia, but they were nonetheless an interesting look at a country I know little about.

In This Video, It's the Men Who Are Constantly Harassed by Dominant Women (Shirin Jaafari, PRI's The World)
A French filmmaker flips the script, with thought-provoking results.

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