One of my friends noted that my 2017 reading list had no fiction. This had been deliberate at first because I thought that there were more urgent items to read. Without fiction, however, it is harder to dream. Literature showcases possible worlds, highlighting things that aren’t practical in the present because the present only encases its own possibilities. Reality has to change to make room for different possibilities. I also find that it is draining to constantly focus on what needs fixing. While there is a definite need to reform or revolutionize, and my other list will address that, recreation cannot be overlooked in such struggle.
So here are ten works I want to tackle:
- Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin. This was a tough choice. I was caught between this, Richard Wright’s Native Son and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. However, this is a classic in African-American literature that also features religious institutions.
- The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. This is one of those alternative futures where the Axis powers (Germany and Japan) had won World War II and now occupy the US.
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. A classic from the Russian master of the novel, this has been on my want-to-read list for over ten years. I had made it about 50pp in previously, but I am super-duper motivated to finish it this time. Just started this epic this afternoon. Whew, he can paint some characters.
- Moving the Mountain by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This is a feminist utopian novel that was published before women’s suffrage even existed. I’ve read some blurbs that many feminists have rediscovered the work as one to reflect on.
- The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin. This fascinating story is about an ambassador who comes to a world where the beings exist without gender and the prejudices that usually accompany beings with gender.
- The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. It’s one of those big sci-fi books all sci-fi fans need to encounter.
- It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. This one feels pretty appropriate at a time when half the American population wonders what is going to happen with the Great Orange. The blurb on Amazon has to do with fascism taking hold in the United States through democratic means.
- The Iron Heel by Jack London. The author of Call of the Wild here presents dystopia, socialism, and all that fun.
- Utopia by Thomas More. The beginning of utopian fiction, More explores tons of basic political questions for an ideal society. Much for me to ponder in these times.
- The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. George R. R. Martin and Ursula Le Guin like it, but my friends recommended it first, so I’m going to tackle it.
If anyone wants to tackle some fiction with me, message me.
Heyo. 2016 has been an incredible year for me as well as a depressing one (I write this the day after I turned 34). I feel I’ve come into my own voice, confident in myself, have things to offer, and no longer feel that my thinking and values are in conflict. I feel my marriage is the strongest it’s ever been. We’ve even started a YouTube channel together. I also feel like my kids have someone to look up to.
The world seems to be going bananas (though it probably just seems worse). There is an incompetent, petty demagogue in the White House who also has Republican majorities in the House and Senate, as well as a majority of state houses and governorships controlled by Republicans. The Syrian civil war has become a potential proxy war between the US and Russia. It has created a crisis not only within Syrian borders, but also an immigration crisis as families try to find safe haven all the while they are suspected of terrorism.
While Trump at least seems like he will deescalate relations with Russia, he seems to be ramping up tension with China. His cabinet picks are atrocious. They show his popular appeal for the sham it was. His reckless speech against minorities of all sorts mobilized the alt-right into a viable political force. A glimmer of hope shines in that workers at Facebook (Facebook finally issued a statement) and Google, and Twitter (as a company) will not comply with creating a Muslim registry.
I like to read. Upon looking at these events, they have given me criteria to narrow down my reading list. I had made a list of over 200 books to read in 2017, which for me would not have been possible. I, therefore, narrowed in on works that would help me sort through current events. With the help of a good friend, I narrowed it down to these:
- Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism by Benedict Anderson. Nationalism has become a central feature of the political climate in the US and in Europe.
- The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. Many fear the signs pointing to totalitarianism in Trump, and so I want to hear Arendt’s analysis of how Hitler and Stalin came to power.
- Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle. I have begun to see the inseparability of ethics and politics and so want to delve into this classic.
- The Social Contract from Hobbes to Rawls by David Boucher and Paul Kelly. Social contract theory is the lens through which I understand politics, though admittedly I haven’t read much on the subject. I’m looking here for fodder on developing stronger communities.
- A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski. Bronski begins his history in 1492, long before Obergefell v. Hodges.
- Marxism in the United States: A History of the American Left by Paul Buhle. As the USSR fell, many saw Marxism “proven” to have failed. A resurgence happened as Bernie Sanders declared himself to be a Democratic Socialist in the 2016 election cycle. Knowing a little about figures like Eugene Debs, I want to see how these leftists fared in a hostile environment.
- Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky. Media consumption is a prime topic since the headlines of “fake news” popped up in the autumn of 2016. The authors caution readers to be just as critical of legitimate(d?) news sources.
- A History of the Birth Control Movement in America by Peter C. Engelman. I’m interested to see how birth control went from an almost uniformly disparaged practice to the presumption of normalcy it enjoys today.
- The Black Panthers Speak by Philip Foner. I’ve become interested in radical groups of various stripes in the past year. The more I find out about them, the more I like the Panthers.
- Church and State in America: The First Two Centuries by James Hutson. This work doesn’t start at the American Revolution, but with the establishment of Virginia and continues up to Jackson’s presidency. Interested to see how this relationship has changed since Jackson.
- Theorizing War: From Hobbes to Badiou by Nick Mansfield. I have held diverse positions on war since I was a boy, ranging from preemptive strikes, to just war, to pacifism, to pro local violence but anti large scale violence. Eager to see what these thinkers propose.
- This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua. This is my foray into feminism beyond the Anglo kind.
- Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche. Again on ethics, I’m looking at how people develop ethical systems without appeal to dogma or foundationalism.
- On the Genealogy of Morality by Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s thoughts on the origins of morality.
- Marx on Religion by John Raines. While not all of what Marx has to say on religion (see that big list here), I want to move beyond that “opiate” statement for a fuller picture of Marx’s thought, particularly since the Communist Party USA had this to say about religionists: “The Communist Party USA encourages people of faith to join our Party.”
- Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader by Alfredo Saad-Filho and Deborah Johnston. The ideology of neoliberalism is largely shared by Democrats and Republicans in the United States, but I don’t know much more about it than that democratic socialists, communists, and Marxists of various stripes largely consider it the ill of modern times.
- Democrats: A Critical History by Lance Selfa. This work seeks to make the case that the Democratic Party lost its pedigree as the party of the working class. I suspect it will be similar to Saad-Filho and Johnston.
- Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism by Victoria Clark. I’ve become increasingly critical of the state of Israel since I began to see it not as a theocracy or an institution in continuity with biblical Israel, but a colonial state backed uncritically by American foreign policy.
- The Bible and Empire: Postcolonial Explorations by R. S. Sugirtharajah. Through my reading I have seen the Bible used as justification in all kinds of colonial endeavors, but not organized in one volume. I’m excited to explore this study in an Indian (India, not indigenous Americans) context.
- A Secular Age by Charles Taylor. While I used to entertain the (hidden) normative claim of the Enlightenment that the West exists in a largely post-religious epoch as a statement of fact, I now find the claim dubious. However, religion as a concept has indeed changed in the past few centuries and I find it worth my while to finally tackle this book.
- The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf. This book is high on the list because of significant women in my life have struggled after the mist that is beauty. Rather than just rest in my own opinion, I want to see how a female scholar tackles the issue.
- Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism by Richard Wolff. While I appreciate that the American Revolution sought political freedom, I have found more of my freedom curtailed in the workplace because of the power owners and managers hold over employees. I’m interested to see what Wolff proposes.
This is going to be a great year. If anyone wants to join me in the reading adventure, let’s plan on it. To make it through these in a year, it will take about 15-20 pages of reading a day. I feel it will be more rewarding than having the bulk of my reading consist of news consumption.