books i need to read this year
- souls of black folks
- jackson uprising
- gloria anzaldua reader
- transmission of affect
- conflict is not abuse
- leadership and the new science
the second time through this book was even better than the first. the things i’ve experienced in the past year have had such an impact on my understanding of the book. i hope Freire means fire (lol). i found the truths about partially reformed oppressors to be particularly relevant this time as well as the discussion of the reasons the dialogical approach is fundamentally necessary for genuine revolution. oh, and also the fact that any genuine revolution must necessarily also be a cultural revolution.
ursula k le guin says that nnedi has more imagination in one page than in some entire other series and she is dead fucking accurate. binti returns home, now part meduse, and struggles to fit in back home. but, to take her weirdness even farther, she finds herself being inducted into the marginalized tribal culture that her father ran away from. to me, this is a story about the ever present complexity of leaving home, growing up, and returning as a new different person. reminds me a little if what Freire says when he talks about the futility of “leadership development” programs implemented by partially reformed oppressors. also feels interesting to me that I’m reading the second book of butler’s xenogenesis series too; lots of parallels…
can’t believe it took me this long to get to this and finish it. the size of the book definitely made it weird to carry around (page size was too big).
this book is about the evolution of our world views. it’s framed as a leadership book for the management theory world (probably for marketing purposes) but it’s so much more than that. my biggest takeaway: we can learn and integrate a lot more from quantum mechanics into our macro world. and also, successful life is all about the perpetual oscillation between chaos and order.
another mind-blowing butler experience. after humans intentionally trigger the conditions for the destruction of our species, aliens come to “save” us from ourselves. butler is playing with her usual themes and questions, leaving no social assumptions unturned. why must family units only have two parents? why not 3? or 5? what if gene mixing were not only common, but the ONLY only way to reproduce? what does survival of species actually mean to us? so good.
this book introduced me to the more spiritual roots and interpretations of the enneagram. good for overview of the tool as well as some depth for each of the nine 9 types. the building of each new layer of the tool was quite illuminating: desires, fears, intelligence centers, prayer postures, it’s all amazing. I took extensive visual notes on this in my notebook and they were useful during one retreat I led (though maybe not useful enough…)
ht leanette pokuwaah
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.
[need to write]
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.
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.
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 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)?
so my friend, annemarie, got me this book, mostly as a joke (i think). at first i was only gonna read it to honor the gift, but two things emerged. first: this book was a fascinating window into gender dynamics during the 1980s. the way the author writes about who was expected to do what in the household is striking. i knew/know sexist gender roles are a thing and were more of a thing in recent american history. but DAMN i didn’t know it was like THIS. second: there actually were a good number of tips in the book, hah! i marked it all up and someday, sometime, i’ll type up the quote from it… someday…
note: i actually read volume 2 of this, but i don’t see volume 2 on goodreads and i’m feeling too lazy to add it right now…
i still don’t really know what to think of this book. for a long time while reading, i was SO lost. and then, eventually, i started to realize that that sensation was being created on purpose. the book’s scenes sort of flow together in a strange, swirling river of specificity, time shifts, and the wavy lines between truth and “truth”. it is fascinating to me that this book essentially takes places all in one day. i’m reading this book as a part of a book club at work and i’m not totally what i’m supposed to get out of it for that context, but i have been pleasantly surprised by this short read. the foreshadowing starts from page 1 (well, really, from the title which is pretty on-the-nose) and at first i was annoyed by it. but in the last two chapters, i saw everything come together and it was super excellent. 5*****
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.
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.
this is one of those books that i should have read in high school. du bois (doo boyz) essentially does an ethnography of the south in the decades following the emancipation proclamation. the book chapters seem to flow from big picture systems and structures and get increasingly individual and specific, ending with a few chapters about specific people and then songs. on that journey, he definitely makes his way through community-scale observations. i feel like the language got more beautiful towards the end of hte book, but maybe that’s just because i understood his writing style better by then. or maybe because it was more specific and less about systems?
my biggest takeaway: it’s unreal how little has actually changed. the book is infuriatingly timeless. there are stories and vignettes he walks through in the book that could essentially be today. on so many topics (cultural appropriation, leaving home to get an education and then feeling alien at home, music, family life, and economics), so little is familiar from when he was writing in 1903 as today. this book has really made me question the conventional knowledge of what we should be doing today in terms of movement work.
but also, his talented 10th idea (that it’s the responsibility of the “top” 10% of black folks to bring the rest of the race along) is pretty fucked and apparent throughout. though it doesn’t actually seem in this book like he leans on that too much. but his theory of change does seem off.
note: read the novel version of this for a colab book club.
this devastating sci-fi novel grapples with many of butler’s most common themes: slavery, sexism & patriarchy, the relationship between past, present, and future, and what it means to have agency in systems of oppression. her main character, dana, is repeatedly pulled back in time by her slaveowning ancestor to save his life. the depths of irony butler dives to in dana’s visits to rufus (the “white” ancestor”) know no bounds. as butler paints a heart-wrenching picture of the complexity of relationships within a single slave plantation, she even further complicates the picture by blurring the present (1815) with the future (1976, the time the main character is from). in the end, dana loses part of arm attempting to “escape the past unscathed.” but given that she lost her arm, did she really escape? (have any of us escaped?). mind-boggling and worth several rereads.
this short nonfiction book is a particular slice/view of futurism from the perspective of an mit futurist. montfort guides the reader through a series of, in his mind, important moments in futurist history, particularly focusing on the ways people making futures relate to the new “technologies” of the day. as he bounces us through history, he makes a couple of really interesting points that surprisingly create a sense of agency for the reader. my takeaway “in the past, people though about the future differently than we do know. given that, there’s no reason we have to keep thinking about the future the way we do now. so get out there and make some futures. also, the most compelling futures, and definitelythe ones that are the most likely to come alive (ex: the internet) are actually built by many people, over time, and with a lot of space for other people to create their own futures within/in relationship to all the other futures.
ht: this book was a gift from ceasar mcdowell in dec 2018.
in some reviews i make a hat tip (ht) to the person who recommended the book to me. other times i just say ‘recommended by.’ sometimes i say nothing because i didn’t keep good notes. *shrug*
finally, all these reviews are initially written and posted on my goodreads list.
note: tried to write this in such a way that it doesn’t spoil too much.
this second book in the patternist series might have been even more mind-blowing than the first (which i didn’t think was possible). there were two moments in this book where i reacted audibly. butler deals deftly with issues of race, slavery, transformation, power, relationship, greed, empathy, and so much more. sometimes dealing with these things so well that i didn’t realize she was weaving them in until deep into the story. in my mind, that is brilliance. and sometimes, all it took was a single sentence for her to reveal the real issue she’s been handling all along. simply brill.
i’m already starting to think about my friends and community as a pattern… but like… without the shitty slavery part.
a shimmering, stunning autobiography. this book is written in 5-10 page vignettes that make it possible for angelou to fast-forward to important scenes, not need to weave every detail in between, but still somehow paint (what to me seems like) a full picture of her childhood and adolescent life. some of the stories are deft in their ability to pierce and others are so beautiful that i may never forget them. every few pages i’d stumble on sentence that was just so powerfully crafted that i wanted to hold it in my hand like a precious stone. on another front, though, particularly of note to me as a queer black man are the ways that she handled sex and sexual violence. i’ll need many years to process that stuff (specifically as i think about my role as an actor to make sure things like what happen to her aren’t possible in the future).
this is an excellent read extolling the confoundingly obvious and yet underprioritized ability for individuals to do focused work. after making a convincing case for the value of deep work over shallow work, newport oscillates between strategy and example of strategy applied that make it clear how to (over time) implement structures in your life to allow deep work to be ever more possible. the one glaring fallacy of this book newport’s complete lack of acknowledgement of the impact of his identity on his ways of behind in the world: the implicit power of his whiteness and maleness (as well as the whiteness and maleness of almost ALL of his case studies) makes many of the implementations of his strategies impossible for people without that power. i still the strategies are often still relevant but what they look like needs to be different depending on one’s demographic position in society.
ht maggie tishman - Oct 8 ht Joel boutin - 19 Nov ht cameron russell - 25 nov
this book blew my entire mind. butler’s brilliant, seemingly effortless way to weave together fact, history, fiction, and vision are breathtaking. like i literally noticed holding my breath paragraphs at a time. the breeding of humans, witchcraft, torture, love, food, happiness, confusion, just everything. the characters are compelling, the plot twists gut-wrenching, and the overarching messages chilling. i’m afraid to read the next one in the series, but i know i can’t not.
by far the strangest book i’ve read all year… maybe ever. i probably understood about 30% of the content of this book; mostly in the form of vignettes strung together between ideas either too complex or too embedded within french culture for me to understand. that said, the parts of this that i did understand were incredibly powerful. some of the ideas and conceptual frames are just unreal. ideas about past, present, & future, race, relationships across race, internalized whiteness supremacy, anti-semitism as it relates to anti-blackness, just… so… much. also, the conclusion is fire.
phew. this was simultaneously a page-turner and a book i wanted to literally throw down at times. i haven’t yet read the novel. the scene shifting is a masterful move to show the threads between the past and present and how “the past isn’t even past.” the way the main characters relate to each other is so powerful and so so so honestly illustrative of the complex dynamics that racism creates. love, hate, fear, protection, need for family, sexual desire, just… everything is so intertwined. and the characters here really bring all of those things to life. excellent read.
dr. gordon nembhard has done a thorough excavation of the history of cooperatives & cooperative-like structures among african americans from ~1900-2000. in this, she challenges that mainstream notion/popular perception that cooperatives are (and have always been) white. by showing how black folks have needed and used cooperative economics to survive, gordon nembhard has opened new doors for understanding today’s socioeconomic thinkers and doers to understand, learn from, and build on the history of folks working together to get their basic needs met.
note: i read this book as a part of the collective courage online book club that nene igietseme and i ran.
blisteringly hot to the touch. these poems are searing in their brevity and weight. it seems that the fewer words in a poem, the more punch it packs. shire here goes deep (using a tiny number of words) into family, sexual violence, love, and memory. favorite poems in this collection: grandmother’s hands, birds, the kitchen, fire, you were conceived, ugly, in love and in war.
physical copy given to me by annemarie gray who was given it by cameron russell.
this was a shockingly informative read given the amount of schooling i’ve been through. i saw this in a neighborhood free library and wanted to give it to my nephew, but wanted to make sure it was good before passing it along. a colorful, accurate, yet appropriate, real, and powerful account of some of the highlights of the history of slavery, the underground, and abolition in the u.s.
looking backwards, ground in the present, dreaming forwards, this book explores how white cis heteropatriarchy has tainted all american spirituality. this book focusing on buddhism is the reflection of three queer black buddhists (a collective) who wrestle with what i means to challenge the old and be new faces of buddhism. the authors argue that in order to achieve liberation we must both stand on the shoulders of our ancestors while getting deeply comfortable with transcendent, intersectional movements.
the second part of the earthseed trilogy (of which only 2 books were published), we’ve moved forward in time and focus to the child of lauren olamina, our original protagonist. this book is shockingly prescient given the 2016 election of donald trump. butler introduces the messy nature of multigenerational changemaker families. it also leans hard into the very real possibilities of explicit slavery as natural ecosystems fail and power/wealth/control of technology are concentrated in shrinking small number of hands. how do you create a community that can sustain itself against all odds? turns out, that’s even harder than it sounds…
the tragically sad story of a young black couple in the middle of racist ass nyc. the couple is pregnant when racism, writ large and small, rips the young expectant father out of his life and pours him into jail. the narrative delicately, beautifully, crazily illustrates how racism and survival are fundamental to the black American experience. the story teeters on the edge of sanity for pages on end and makes pages fly by. I’ve never read a book with sections (chapters) like this one and i love the way baldwin did it.
ht sharon de la cruz. note: i read this as a part of the princeton studiolab & p5js interactive book club.
mindstorms is a book on its surface about how children use computers. but it’s so so so much more than that. it’s really a treatise about how computing could have (and potentially still could) create a paradigm shift in what we think education is and how we then go about the process of “educating” future generations. essentially, papert firmly rejects (as does his contemporary, paulo freire) the idea that knowledge is something that can be passed from one person to another. instead, he believes that the process of theory creation, testing, and then recreation is the fundamental building basis of education. he believes that the western model of education has completely crushed that reality. we “learn” in school that some things are too complicated for us to learn our way through (like calculus) and so at certain point, we must accept that someone has the right answer somewhere and our way forward is to just learn the answer from someone else who has figured it out.
papert says that what computers actually give us the ability to do is illustrate to ourselves how our individual processes of theory creation, testing, and recreation work. and, once we understand that for ourselves, we can then (theoretically) learn anything by going through that process. unfortunately, the decision that has been embedded into computing culture is that only some people can be programmers (rapid learners) and everyone else just has to use the computer like a simple tool. we have decided that computers should just be used to “transfer knowledge” more efficiently, instead of help us each to discuss our capacity to create new knowledge.
he convinced me and i’m thinking totally differently about what education even is. well played.
i got this as a coffeetable book some time ago and slowly read it around the time i started to loc my hair again. the book starts out with an essay about the global histories of (dread)locks in different contexts. from spiritual leaders in south east asia to africa to the caribbean, most locks have deep cultural, historic importance to the people who wear them. the essay was fascinating, for sure. most of the book, though, is 2-page spreads: one page being a full page portrait and the other being a statement from the subject of the image. it was really eye-opening to see how so many different people from around the world and different traditions think about their locked hair.
ps - i’m not totally sold on the cultural pluralism taken by the authors (e.g. that people of all backgrounds, regardless of how they understand their identities, can wear locs without cultural appropriation). i feel like people who have a historic, spiritual or not, connection to the practice of locking hair, have a different relationship to it than people (especially people whose hair doesn’t lock naturally and/or people who are prone to appropriate cultures) who just do it for the aesthetic.
recommended by ambroise nahas.
strange little allegory about the strangeness of adulthood. also took a strange amount of time for me to read given its length. somehow i could only put away a few pages at a time. following the main character, a small, strangely wise child, this story explores how adults have pretty much everything in life wrong, especially their priorities.
my third baldwin read. a completely character-driven book that feels semi-autobiographical. baldwin seems to be exploring the different important people in his young life as a way deal with himself and the complexity of his childhood. i got a lost a few times, but it makes more sense further in. also, some of the sentences in this book are absolutely fucking brilliant. they burn images in the mind like acid.
this book is somehow both mindblowing and breathtakingly obvious. brown here speaks (and speaks is an understatement here) what people in social justice movement spaces have been feeling for years. the seamless way brown weaves prose, quotes, nature, poetry, and reflection together is a perfect analogy for how our movements and lives should be. i wouldn’t be surprised if this was the movement book of my time.
standard part of the sharp works. this is a short, straightforward guide to the thinking, strategy, and tactics of how to overthrow a dictatorship. contrary to its name, however, it is also a guide for how to slow the growth of a dictatorship in progress or prevent dictatorships in the first place. consistent in its logic and also (sideways) addresses how to handle violent actions in a nonviolent struggle. a valuable read in the modern political era where democracy as an ideology seems to be crumbling from many angles.
gift from ross chanowski
surprisingly meaningful and complex story about two dear friends. they support each other through thick and thin, even when the process of supporting causes trouble for the supporter. impressive way to capture the difficulty and yet striking beauty of a true friendship. what a great gift. =]
this collection of futurist stories is an experiment in individual and collective imagination; it is a step in the direction of decolonizing our imaginations and that process is critically important. some of the stories were clear favorites for me, but i think only because they resonated with my specific context and perspectives. i can imagine other stories resonating for other people and the ones that were good for me not being so good for them.
after (finally) picking this up, i totally get why people say it’s one of the most important of its time. well-written, complex, brutally honest, and thorough. the evolution of this man over the course of his life (which was really several lives) gives me hope for all of humanity. if he can go through what he did and end up where he did, there’s gotta be a way out (of racism).
utterly devastating. kincaid eviscerates neo-colonialism (aka tourism) in this tiny, vitriolic polemic. in this book (really like a long essay) kincaid destroys what means to be a tourist and forcefully, accurately, appropriately reminds us that the tourism industry is basically infrastructure for short-term colonialist excursions. everybody who is ever going to travel anywhere other than places they are from needs to read this before traveling again.
recommended and gifted by ross chanowski
this is an incredible book. it does exactly what its title hints at: or shows Einstein as a full human being, with science as just one part of his identity; not his entire identity. the way in which he spoke out against oppression, acted with kindness and love towards everyone (dear friends, family, and strangers alike) sheds huge light on what it takes to actually be a figure that history cannot forget.
recommended by jonathan krones.
fascinating futurist story about a future in which the west coast has seceded from the united states and become its own sustainability driven country. framed as a series of alternating personal entries and “official” journalist news stories, the narrative of this book is a tool to extrapolate on a world where a number of current different sustainability trends reach their logical conclusions. curious (if not accurate and/or supremacist) handling of black people: they basically just create a sovereign nation within ecotopia and live happily ever after.
very short no nonsense handbook about how to use non-violent struggle to prevent or topple a coup d’etat. after an initial definitional section and some case studies, the authors highlight and explain general strategies and approaches useful to undoing hostile government takeovers. surprisingly (or maybe not), the best strategy against a coup is a strong democratic society. go figure.
devastating. unbelievably powerful. rankine’s flow between prose, verse, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction parallels her experience and explanation of race and life. the sections alternate between microaggression vignettes, storytelling, and poetry that, combined, left me literally angry, crying, and soothed. had to read it in two days because i literally couldn’t take it any more.
the irony that this book is so unfocused is uncanny. the first half of this book does earnestly seem to be about how the brain functions to support or hinder the type of focus our modern world requires. the second half wanders through into leadership and management theory, interpersonal habits (good and bad), and environmental/climate/social change. in spite of the fact that the book, in my opinion, needed 2-3 additional rounds of solid editing, i did generally enjoy how focus was (loosely) connected to (dis)functioning of the world at large.
a foundational work in anti-oppression theory. speaking from experience and the academy, freire links dialogue, praxis, and revolution in very concrete ways. he brilliantly (if somewhat laboriously) lays out the pathway from continual awakening to revolution as people work together (which is the only way true revolution is achieved) towards liberation.
at the end of the book, he explains what the work is about in no uncertain terms: “… just as the oppressor, in order to oppress, needs a theory of oppressive action, so the oppressed, in order to become free, also need a theory of action.”
unbelievably gripping futurist fiction book. butler explores one pathway of what could happen if the major problems our society is dealing with at present continue on their existing trajectories. the issues include (in butler’s own words): “drugs and the effects of drugs on the children of drug addicts, the growing rich/poor gap, throwaway labor, our willingness to build and fill prisons, our reluctance to build and repair schools and libraries, our assault on the environment, increased vulnerability to disease, and the loss of coastline as the level of the sea rises.” terrifyingly possible and energizing to the socially engaged reader who wants not to see this world come to be. unfortunately, as of me finishing this book (25 jan 2017) some of the fictional realities posed in this world are already coming to life.
brilliant read expanding on hooks’ thinking in all about love, the first book in her love trilogy. in each chapter, hooks lays out amazing insights about love in different contexts. hooks weaves together of other intelligent thinkers, historical contexts, and personal insights in a way that produces incredible instruction for how to actually make progress as individuals, groups, and societies. she points out that, without a love ethic, our social movements are bound to recreate the same problematic structures that generated the need for the movements in the first place.