Such a devastating loss of such an incredible and truly imaginative person.
Thanks to Director Arwen Curry, her team, and many Kickstarter backers (which includes me and my tiny drop in the bucket back in February 2016), we will soon(ish?) have an incredible documentary traversing Ursula K. Le Guin’s absolutely remarkable life and legacy. There’s still time to donate to their finishing costs here.
The books I read in 2017, listed chronologically (January reads first). Some of these I commented on more fully in earlier posts and/or on Goodreads. You can see a prettier visualization of this data here.
Autumn by Ali Smith (my first Ali Smith and as I’ve said before, it was a true joy to read)
How To Be Both by Ali Smith (I preferred Autumn but also liked this)
Heartbreak by Andrea Dworkin (loved her voice)
The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri (disappointing – one star on Goodreads)
Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione Lee (really fantastic biography, though not as great at Lee’s bio of Virginia Woolf)
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (great)
Prejudicial Appearances: The Logic of American Antidiscrimination Law by Robert Post, K. Anthony Appiah, Judith Butler, Thomas Grey, and Reva Siegel
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester (if you want a super fun read about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, you must read this)
Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin (also excellent)
The Second Shift by Arlie Russell Hochschild (eye-opening and I’ve started giving it to all my girlfriends)
Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald (enjoyed, especially after reading her biography first. In all her work there seem to be these moments of intense violence that are mixed in with the very normal everyday. In some sense it makes it even more jarring — you aren’t expecting it and she doesn’t do anything to help you process it afterwards. It’s just — here’s a horrible violent thing. And then we pan to the left and see Johnny having some tea.)
The Taming of Free Speech by Laura Weinrib (If you’re interested in the history of civil liberties, esp. the First Amendment, and how its current form is far away from its labor economic-rights-based origins, this is a must read. I thought it was so interesting. Go Laura!)
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Why Some Things Should Not Be For Sale by Debra Satz
N-W by Zadie Smith (got progressively better as it went along)
We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World by Melvyn Dubofsky (As best I can tell this is *the* history of the Wobblies book to read – and for good reason)
To Steal a Book is an Elegant Offense: Intellectual Property Law in Chinese Civilization by William Alford (such an interesting topic but didn’t give me exactly as much as I’d hoped for. I wanted a deeper dive into the history and development of conceptions of property and ownership in China generally and then for IP specifically. Stealing as a concept already assumes a background ownership structure. It assumes that someone is a rightful possessor and then some other person wrongfully took that possession from them. But what’s interesting is how cultures can develop where what we might think of as stealing and wrong others simply don’t even conceptualize in that way. That is part of what I wanted to walk away with a better understanding of. But at only 236 pages, you can imagine that a lot had to be left out. If anybody reading this knows of another book like this but longer and deeper, please let me know!)
Orlando by Virginia Woolf (I loved this book. Like, loved it. Dear book gods, please please please give me a signed first edition. And if you want to send me the presentation copy from Woolf to Vita Sackville-West or even Vanessa Bell (see, I’m not picky!), I promise… well… I’ll promise whatever you’d like! (note the current price of the presentation copy to Vanessa Bell is currently listed on abebooks at $325,000!) (The cheapest signed first edition I see is already $2,887.50 on abebooks. I cry.)
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (given my love of The Hours (which you should read right now if you haven’t), I thought I’d have to love this one. But, alas, it just didn’t work much for me. I found Orlando and To The Lighthouse to be absolutely wonderful though.)
The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand (great and now filled with pages of my notes)
The True Believer by Eric Hoffer
Private Government by Elizabeth Anderson (her Tanner Lectures followed with commentary from a number of people in different fields and then her replies to those replies.)
The Disappearing L by Bonnie J. Morris (about the rise and fall of US lesbian culture since the 70s, focusing almost exclusively on concert festivals (esp. Michigan Festival) and music more generally. As a Lilith Fair lover, I enjoyed reading about all the many awesome festivals that came before it. The demise of these kinds of events (think a women-only burning man in a summer camp) is a true loss.)
Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil by Deborah Nelson
Food Justice by Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi
Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller (easy intro to attachment theory, though I found their inability to sympathize with/contextualize avoidants a serious mark against it)
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
I Love Dick by Chris Kraus (sometimes, some of us, become a little, shall we say, unwell, when it comes to romantic relations. Most of the time we take this behavior to be bad/something to ‘work on’. Here’s a story of a woman who did the opposite. Put another way, there’s the person who calls their ex a bunch of times in a row and then finally feels ridiculous and creepy. Then there’s the person who just keeps calling, leaving hundreds of messages, sending letters, emails, etc. and 100% owns that. In fact, turns the whole thing into something of an art project. This is the person who drives their car, full-powered, over a cliff and while falling just screams manically “yes!!!!!” This book is about this latter sort of person. I found it sort of amazing.
The Myth of Ownership by Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel
The Sum of Small Things by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett (my previous review is here)
Future Sex by Emily Witt (a total disappointment)
Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy by Richard E. Ocejo (‘how educated and culturally savvy young people are transforming traditionally low-status manual labor jobs into elite taste-making occupations.’ People who gave this less than four stars on Goodreads were objectively wrong)
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (charming and delightful. I just loved this. If you, like me, love books about books and book culture and book collecting, you would absolutely treasure this one)
Feminism: A Very Short Introduction by Margaret Walters (3-stars ok)
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (I loved American Gods back in the day and was motivated to read this while watching the American Gods show. I love this world and would like to pay it more visits)
The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff (the follow-up book to 84, Charing Cross Road. Also enjoyable but not nearly as much so as the original)
The Sacred and Profane Love Machine by Iris Murdoch (Not hating men for about a week after reading this was a challenge)
The End of the Story by Lydia Davis (it’s not often that I explicitly think about form in literature. This book changed that. When trying to talk about, make senes, etc. of very painful times, the truth is we often don’t have one clear overarching narrative that runs in chronological order. Instead, we have fragments. Pieces from different moments run together. There can be a certain stillness and painful fog hanging over us. This book perfectly captures this through, in part, experimenting with form.)
Virginia Woolf by Hermoine Lee (without question the best biography I have ever read in my entire life. The only negative is that I don’t quite love Woolf-the-person so much anymore. But honestly, if you read Woolf, give yourself the gift of reading this book.)
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling and Jack Thorne (A goddamn tragedy. I was angry when I finished it. It was so bad, so unbelievable, so unfortunate. Oh, it hurts me still. I consider this outside the Canon and a flukey horrible mistake (that is making lots of people very rich). It’s so bad. Save yourself the heartbreak.)
Conversations on Art and Aesthetics by Hans Maes (A collection of interviews with some of the leading aesthetic philosophers around. For someone with no prior background in the topics, I found it a super helpful primer that sparked tons of ideas for future exploration
Boundaries and Allegiances: Problems of Justice and Responsibility in Liberal Thought by Samuel Scheffler
My Brilliant Best Friend by Elena Ferrrante
The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante (my reading these back-to-back over the course of *maybe* a week and a half speaks for itself. The relationship between the two main characters was so fascinating and rich and challenging. I kept thinking about these books for months.)
Beauty by Roger Scruton
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (worth reading multiple times and so much to say about it. The betrayal at the end (having to do, I think, will a desire to destroy what you feel controls you), our extremely limited access to Miss Brodie’s life outside the views of the girls — it was all just so psychologically interesting.)
Private Wongs by Arthur Ripstein
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi (translated by Jocelyne Allen) (an autobiographical manga. I just wanted to give her a big hug)
The Course of Love by Alain do Botton (long-term relationships are hard and the more books we have that talk about different ways to make them work, however they might work for those individuals, the better)
Sourdough by Robin Sloan (I *loved* Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookshop and this was Sloan’s next book. Totally fun. Delightful. I felt like I was back in the bay area working at Google. Dear Robin Sloan, I love you. Sincerely, me.)
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (rich, sad, and with a real sense of place)
By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolano (a step into more experimental-y writing styles.)
On Beauty by Elaine Scarry
How Fiction Works by James Wood (if you read fiction, you should read this book)
Only a Promise of Happiness: The Place of Beauty in a World of Art by Alexander Nehams (yes yes yes)
The Tyranny of the Ideal by Gerald Gaus (I saw him present at the NYU Law & Philosophy Colloquium this Fall and was absolutely fascinating with what his work on complex systems could mean in epistemology. That talk and this book inspired an entire paper of mine, and inspired me to take a course with Scott Page’s Modeling Complex Systems course on Coursera
Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature by Alva Noe (Many little morsels of interesting thought but, alas, I felt like there was not enough depth. I wrote a review where I tried to help rationally reconstruct some of his arguments and provide some more nuanced accounts.)
The Lives of Animals by J.M. Coetzee (recommended by a friend. It’s a two-part lecture Coetzee gave at Princeton for the Tanner Lecturers. But instead of a normal lecture, he delivered a fictional novella. I think this could pair nicely with Unspeakable Conversations by Harriet McBryde Johnson [NYT link here])
Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Plays by Mitchel Resnick (read to help with my epistemology paper. Quick and enjoyable)
Critical Race Theory: An Introduction by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic (better late than never. Read to help provide some context for my reading of Charles Mills’ White Ignorance and The Racial Contract)
Under the Net by Iris Murdoch (Enjoyed)
Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith (I mean, the book is magical. The idea that octopi might be the most alien conscious creatures we ever encounter is striking. That nature could produce such different kinds of intelligent life, basically totally separate from each other is beautiful. It also provides me hope that there are aliens out there and they will find us!)
The Taming of Free Speech by Laura Weinrib (HUP 2016)
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Why Some Things Should Not Be For Sale: The Moral Limits of Markets by Debra Satz (OUP 2010)
NW by Zadie Smith
We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World by Melvyn Dubofsky
To Steal a Book is an Elegant Offense: Intellectual Property Law in Chinese Civilization by William P. Alford (Stanford University Press 1997)
Orlando by Virginia Woolf – loved this
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand – loved this
The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer
Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives by Elizabeth Anderson (PUP 2017) – this combines her Tanner Lecturers with commentary by scholars from various fields. I’m hoping this is a sign that philosophers are becoming more interested in theorizing about work relations and private-ish law.
The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture by Bonnie J. Morris (SUNY Press 2016) – Books on lesbian culture are hard to come by so I was quite happy to have stumbled upon this one. Very interesting. The discussion of conscious raising and how it resulted in intra-group fights(e.g. concerning women-born-women only spaces) and factions pairs well with the documentary She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, which covers the rise of the women’s movement, focusing on 1966-71.
Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil (University of Chicago Press 2017) – better to know a bit about these women before you read this.
Food Justice by Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi (MIT Press 2010) – some helpful information for those with limited knowledge about the issues. I found it repetitive.
Prejudicial Appearances: The Logic of American Antidiscrimination Law by Robert Post and others (a collection of responses to a Post essay)
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester (Fun but also sad. I now would like to own the complete OED. Note: very expensive)
Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
The Second Shift by Arlie Russell Hochschild (a must read)
Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald (great to read after finishing her biography)
I’ve decided to do another 52 book challenge this year. While last year I read more than 52, I didn’t want to set a higher goal this year because, in short, I’d like to avoid creating conditions that disincentivize the reading of both longer and more complex books. With a goal of 52, last year I was able to read a number of long books (e.g., Middlemarch and the biography of Chavez) and a number of complex books — books that I wanted to read very slowly (e.g., To the Lighthouse and a number of the more philosophical texts). This year I’d like to ensure I have the space to do that again.
With that, my January reads.
Autumn by Ali Smith (embarrassing confession: I’d never heard of Ali Smith before reading an LGBTQ newsletter for Boston-area people that just happened to include a list of lesbian authors. After seeing her described as “Scotland’s Nobel Laureate-in-waiting”, I had to look her up. This book was a real treat. So much ‘high’ literature is depressing but this was quite the opposite. While the book is set in post-Brexit England, and while many of the characters have painful memories of past relationships, and live with an awareness of the narrowing of opportunities for them as time goes on, there is something quite hopeful and, I thought, joyful in these pages. Perhaps not so different from the conflicting feelings of closure, nostalgia, regret, and possibility that Autumn itself can evoke.
How to be Both by Ali Smith (I read that the book is published in two versions. One version has the story Francesco del Cossa, the Italian renaissance artist, first, and the other has the story of George, a modern girl living in England, first. I happened to get the Francesco story first. I suspect I would have enjoyed it more the other way around and recommend the same to future readers. If you do insist on reading Francesco first, I think it best to read Francesco again, after you read George. Either way, I enjoyed Autumn more than this one.)
Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant by Andrea Dworkin
The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri (my close friend was going to buy me this book but I thankfully ended up buying it for myself first. Thankfully because otherwise I’d feel bad saying the following: it’s not worth buying. I’ve not read her other work (work I’ve heard is fantastic, for what it’s worth) but this should not be a book. It was originally a lecture and there simply aren’t enough ideas in here to merit publication in book format. I wish her editor would have encouraged her to put forward a few ideas and then spend some time really developing them. As it stands, it could have been a nice (and easily shortened) Slate article. Disappointing. Though the book cover itself is appealing.
While I’ve completed the 52 book challenge already, I’ve decided I’ll keep posting my monthly reads. At least for now.
Liberty’s Refuge: The Forgotten Freedom of Assembly by John Inazu (YUP 2012)
Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society by Mario Vargas Llosa, translated by John King (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2015)
In one of Colin Powell’s leaked messages he mentioned reading this book (he specifically said, “Just finished a book by a guy named Llosa about loss of culture. It was reviewed in the WSJ last week. Culture is going and with it the ties that bind.”). If Powell thought it worth mentioning the book, I figured it was worth my reading it. I found it a mixed bag. I’d recommend the first eighty or so pages and then a skim of the rest.
Autobiography of Mother Jones by Marry Harris Jones (aka: Mother Jones), edited by Mary Field Parton (Charles H. Kerr Publishing 1996. Originally published by Kerr in 1925)
An absolutely incredible person. However, I recommend a bibliography before her autobiography (she assumes lots of prior knowledge). A few tidbits:
You remember the Divine Right of Kings? Here is what the President of the mine owners association said in 1902: “The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected not by the labor agitator but by the Christian men and women to whom God in His infinite wisdom has given the control of the property interests of this country.” (61).
Work or Fight Laws (Mother Jones called the “infamous slave bill”): A law was passed (again, the wealthy control of the government was no joke) that said: if you strike, you are automatically sent to the front line trenches. (177) The Governor veoted it but just take a moment to think about how that passed.
With company-owned towns, they were able to tell workers (who were paid in company script instead of real money and thereby forced to buy from company-owned stores [with marked up prices] and live in company-owned shacks [also marked up]) that allowing Mother Jones into their homes constituted trespass (on company property, remember). Indeed, the police would stand on the boundaries of the company-owned land. If she stepped one foot inside, she was arrested. If any workers pushed for change, they were immediately kicked out of their shacks, blacklisted, and without money.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (first published in the UK, by Bloomsbury 1997. First US edition published by Scholastic in 1998)
I’ve started listening to a fabulous podcast that I fully recommend: Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. I also attended my first in-person meeting of their book club last week. So what does it mean to treat Harry Potter as a sacred text? Three things (per their site):
1) trusting the text (“we practice the belief that the text is not ‘just entertainment’, but if taken seriously, can give us generous rewards.
2) rigor and ritual (“The text in and of itself is not sacred, but is made so through our rigorous engagement”)
3) reading it in community (“Scholars of religion explain that what makes a text sacred is not the text itself, but the community of readers that proclaim it as such. The same applies to us.”
Often times (and somewhat related to Book 54) it seems people are unwilling to fully embrace the things they love. There’s this desire to keep an ironic distance. While irony has its place in our lives and how we view our beliefs (see: Richard Rorty), there is also something incredibly valuable about loving something and pursuing its gifts in earnest. This podcast fully embraces this philosophy. I’ve learned so much from them and their subscribes (who call in). If you want to cultivate the virtues, this would not be a bad place to start the work. (and as they point out, becoming a better person is work)
Speaking Freely: Whitney v. California and American Speech Law by Philippa Strum (University Press of Kansas 2015)