Reading For Troubled Times

By Karen Carter


In these troubled times it seems really important to go back to reading lists from my university days on African, African-American and Caribbean writers and history. I need to revisit these books partly to help me find my centre and also to help me advise young people on the gaps in their knowledge as they address issues of race and representation through their own activism.

1) Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin / Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe / Masters of The Dew by  Jacques Roumain

I am glad of the time I took to write this list, as it allowed me to update based on the documentary I Am Not Your Negro and some of the conversations that have been happening locally about the disconnect between youth and elders.  I do not think that many of our youth have read Baldwin and/or other Pan-African and Caribbean writers whose works of fiction and non-fiction are needed to bring context to the troubling time we are in.  

2) 50 Objects That Define Toronto by Matthew Blackett / Frontier City: Toronto on the Verge of Greatness by Shawn Micallef / Beyond Barbed Wire: Essays on the Internment of Italian Canadians Edited by Licia Canton, Domenic Cusmano, Michael Mirolla, Jim Zucchero

My current reading also includes things relevant to my work at Myseum of Toronto. As a museum without walls, Myseum does not come to the conversation about objects in the traditional way. Matthew Blackett’s book reminds me of the need to encourage all Torontonians to think about the items they have as important parts of Toronto’s story. Shawn Micallef is a Toronto Star columnist who writes about Toronto’s social and political pulse, and Frontier City is his latest book.  

My undergraduate degree is in History so I still enjoy traditional history reading. I go to anthologies to get my history fix now, as I don’t have time for full length non-fiction novels. Beyond Barbed Wire: Essays on the Internment of Italian Canadians includes diaries, oral histories and testimonials as well as commentary and analysis. Some essays offer provocative points to stir debate; others provide thoughtful reflection and posit useful questions. These writings explore contentious issues and raise important questions about rights and responsibilities, power and privilege, political processes, ethnic identity, collective memory, and other topics relevant to contemporary Canadian society.

3) Cities, Museums and Soft Power by Gail Lord and Ngaire Blankenberg

Museum planners Gail Lord and Ngaire Blankenberg demonstrate how museums and cities are and should be using their soft power to address some of the most important issues of our time. This is an easy read and nicely broken up into a series of articles.

4) Monocle

Monocle is the only magazine I subscribe to and read monthly. Magazines and newspapers keep me informed more broadly about the place Toronto holds in the world. I always find that in reading Monocle I learn something related to culture internationally. Monocle was also the first to publish broadly about soft power and to position the soft power index as measurement for national power. Soft power is a term coined by Joseph Nye of Harvard University to describe the ability to attract and co-opt power rather than by coercion (hard power).

5) Local and National News

I don’t read online articles well. I find I skim them. So, I make a point of picking up the newspaper every Sunday to know what is happening locally and nationally via the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail. If I have the time I will also pick up the Weekend Guardian and and Sunday New York Times. I scan both online daily and try to read them through on the weekends.

I try to stay away from the 24/7 news cycle. I still find value in trusting that if given time to follow the arch of a story, a reporter will give me a good summary of all the different events that have happened over the course of the news cycle in an intelligent and critical way. I think my responsibility as a citizen is to read as many different perspectives from as many reporters as possible. I don’t need to hear every opinion from every individual.

I am also a very auditory person, so I am a big fan of Writers & Company on CBC Radio One on sunday afternoons with host Eleanor Wachtel. I often buy new books based on her interviews with international writers. A perfect Sunday is coming home from church in the early afternoon and cooking to get me through the week while listening to the radio.


karen carter 2 headshot (1)-5

Photo Courtesy of the Myseum of Toronto. This image shows Karen in front of a wood panel background. Karen is smiling, wearing black glasses, a black shirt and a brown, black and white printed scarf.

Karen Carter is the Executive Director of the Myseum of Toronto, an innovative approach to the museum experience, and a new way to experience Toronto’s natural spaces, cultures, history, archaeology and architecture. She has over 20 years experience working and volunteering in a variety of cultural and educational settings in Toronto. She is the co-founder and Chair of Black Artists’ Networks Dialogue (BAND), an organization dedicated to the promotion of Black arts and culture in Canada and abroad. Karen is also a faculty member for the Culture and Heritage Site Management program at Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre.


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