What I'm reading

last updated: 11 august 2018

radical hope

i felt like i had to read this book given the radical imagination work grant and i have been interested in doing lately. it’s a lovely collection of letters and a quick read that i probably read too fast. has past, present, and future directed letters and the range of voices and letter recipients is wonderful. i should go back and find some of my favorites and mark them for future teaching materials

it’s pretty insane that butler can pack just as much into her short stories as she does with her novels. she does it repeatedly in this collection. the opening story, bloodchild - the title for the collection, whops a mind bending wallop and the final story, martha’s book, a story about the nature of divinity, hit me so powerfully at exactly the right moment (during the evolutionary leadership workshop at chanel rock on cortes island). butler’s ability to take the basic underlying premises of our lives, keep them, but bend them just enough to make me rethink the whole world is astounding.

jackson rising: the struggle for economic democracy and black self-determination in jackson, mississippi

the dispossessed

this book. just. wow. i saw another review somewhere that said this line (which i fully agree with): “this book is philosophy disguised as sci-fi.” it starts out slow, but it’s all brilliantly planned. i love how elements that seem totally mundane and useless come back around as plot points or in the conversations of characters later on.

the book to me felt like a deep exploration of human societal structures and the lengths to which we can go to build systems and societies that still don’t allow us to be ourselves. because maybe it’s not possible to have a static society that can ever contain in equilibrium all that is humanity. the setting is two somewhat mirror planets where one is capitalist and patriarchal and the other is anarchist. i haven’t even fully disgested the depths to which this book shook up my thinking about societal structures so i hope to re-read it and think through it more completely.

my favorite thing about the book was the sections about time. i’m going to quote those sections extensively once i get them all typed up.

if you haven’t yet read the book, here’s a pro-tip i wish i’d had before starting: read the wikipedia plot summary before starting. maybe i could’ve figured out what was happening but i didn’t until the very end. it would have saved me much head/heartache.

killing and dying: stories

this is an excellent little graphic novel that has six bizarre stories about the often hidden complexity of life. each story, unfathomable to me as real, surfaces dynamics, thoughts, and specific situations as the most real. i don’t even know if i would classify this book as fiction or nonfiction, but regardless of where it falls, it is full of life lessons.

the illustrations are spare, sparse even, and convey oh so much with oh so little. i think this illustration style could be fairly described as poetry.

harriet tubman: conductor on the underground railroad

i am embarrassed that i knew so little about harriet tubman’s life before reading this book. it felt like it was written for young adults and it was so so good. the author, ann petry, walked a line between poetry and honest brutality. she doesn’t shy away from the hard moments (beatings, whippings) but she paints them with a broad enough brush so the reader can fill in the violence with as little or as much as she knows. the chapters are divided really nicely into different life segments and when strung together, they give an incredible arc to an incredible woman’s life.

also each chapter ends with a section that is about what else is happening in history. it adds a nice layer of contex given that the book could easily be just about the amazingness that is araminta ross (harriet tubman’s birth name).

you are not a gadget

this was a profoundly strange and mindblowing book for me. reading it felt like lanier skipped a stone across a pond of time and each chapter was a weird, iridescent splash. the big points that have stuck with me from this book are:

  • if our society holds the computer as god, we must diminish ourselves as infinitely complex beings in order to allow the computer to render us.
  • lock-in is a bigger problem in tech than in other spheres and industries. for example, midi is made up into bits and will never be able to capture completely the sound of a trombone glissando. and yet, midi is the foundational tech for all music in all computing. we may never know what else digital music could’ve sounded like.
  • though it is difficult and against the grain, we should perpetually be asking ourselves: how do we shape our tools to support us to be more fully human (and not more machinelike)?


this is the first time i have deeply agreed with a quoted accolade on a book in a long time. “nnedi okorafor has more imagination on a single page than some other sci fi has in volumes.” this is a beautiful, quick read about a young woman who runs away from home to go to school because she is brilliant. in the process, which is complicated and fucked, she unknowingly (literally) becomes other in order to save/live her life. in the end, her ability to do that saves the lives of many others and opens up new possibilities for … the universe (i think), but she’s not totally clear (at least not by the end of the book) if its a price she was willing to pay. the book is beautifully written and so imaginative that sometimes i had to reread entire pages to make sure i was following all the revelations properly.

i’m super excited to read the next two books in the series.


the final book in the patternist series, it (mostly) did not disappoint. i’m so glad i read the books in chronological order (as opposed to the order in which they were written). thanks, alex kats-rubin, for that pro-tip.

everything in this universe now fully makes sense because i see how the details in mind of my mind and clay’s ark all cohere. this book, which is about conflict on earth between essentially alien-infected-super-human-animals and humans who have intense telepathic power, brings up all of butler’s favorite subjects. slavery, empathy, the power of the individual and the collective to shape destiny, relationship to planet, and more. this is the only butler book i’ve read so far where the protagonist is a male… must have been early in her writing career. anyway, as always, there were several moments in the reading of this book where i audibly yelped or was trembling because she writes scenes so powerfully. i am beginning to pick up on the gentle ways she slows down the action of a section, usually with description, right before some crazy shit happens.

love it. love it all. can’t wait to real all her stuff.



Boston, MA United States of America