book reviews: you are not a gadget, harriet tubman: conductor on the underground railroad, killing and dying: stories, the dispossessed02 Jun 2018
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)?
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).
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.
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.
words / writing / post-processing
630w / 30min / 15min