Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Native Son

Written by: Richard Wright


Why you should read this book: In Chicago, in 1940, a young Black man, Bigger Thomas, is forced to take a job as a chauffeur for a wealthy white family in order to keep his mother and siblings fed and housed, but the Daltons are like no people he's ever encountered, and a lifetime of being forcibly othered by white people makes it difficult for Bigger to comprehend them, let along navigate their universe. Forced by their rebellious daughter Mary to associate with Communists and confront inequality, Bigger's fate seems sealed his first fateful day on the job, but suddenly, in the midst of chaos and despair, Bigger begins to come alive and starts thinking critically about the world and his place in it. There may be no justice for a Black man in Bigger's shoes, but with the help of a Jewish Communist layer, Mr. Max, he begins to see himself, his situation, and his country in a different light.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If you're a Black person who is currently feeling traumatized by systemic racism and inequality, this might not be a happy journey for you.

Go with the Flow

Written by: Lily Williams and Karen Schneeman

First line: Wakey wakey eggs...and bakey!

Why you should read this book: On her first day at a new school, late-blooming sophomore Sasha gets her first period and everyone notices before she does, but, fortunately, she is swept up by a powerful friend squad who do their best to alleviate the stigma of menstruation for the new girl. But Sasha's dilemma reminds the girls of other time-of-the-month issues: Brit's undiagnosed condition (probably endometriosis) means that she's missing way too much school due to way too much pain, and Abby is incensed that the school sanitary pad dispensers are always empty, while Christine is just trying to navigate her own feelings and everyone else's. When Abby can't get satisfaction from the faculty, she takes her outrage to the internet, and she's about to find out what everybody else thinks about menstrual inequality.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're not ready for a frank discussion of menstruation.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation

Written by: Gene Sharp

First line: One of my major concerns for many years has been how people could prevent and destroy dictatorships.

Why you should read this book: Based on a study of numerous countries that made a shift from dictatorship to democracy, Sharp outlines the process of employing proven tactics of nonviolent struggle to overthrow fascist regimes. His findings can be summarized in two words—solidarity and persistence—and the very short book does an excellent job of explaining how to employ these tactics, and why they work. The appendix comprises a list of 198 nonviolent actions that can be employed by the resistance to chip away at a regime's power, generate sympathy for the cause, and cause oppressive governments to crumble and cede power to the people.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You support a fascist dictator.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Venus Plus X

Written by: Theodore Sturgeon

First line: "Charlie Johns," urgently cried Charlie Johns: "Charlie Johns, Charlie Johns!" for that was the absolute necessity—to know who Charlie Johns was, not to let go of that for a second, for anything, ever.

Why you should read this book: Charlie Johns, an average, twentieth century man,  wakes up to find he has been inexplicably summoned to a seemingly utopian, technologically advanced future where gender doesn't exist and all people therefore live in perfect harmony. The Ledom, presumptive inheritors of an Earth destroyed by careless homo sapiens, want Charlie to know them, their culture and customs, and to offer up his honest opinion of their civilization, so that they may better know themselves. With wide-eyed wonder tinged with a yearning for home, Charlie agrees to a complete tour of paradise, down to its greatest secrets, while a parallel story interspersed with Charlie's journey offers up a picture of flawed egalitarianism in a modern (1960) nuclear family.

Why you shouldn't read this book: While Sturgeon was, in so many ways, ahead of his time, he was also, like the rest of us, a product of his time; I'd like to believe that our understanding of sex, sexuality, and gender has advanced substantially in the last 60 years.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Cosmic Rape

Written by: Theodore Sturgeon

First line: "I'll bus' your face, Al," said Gurlick.

Why you should read this book: Oh, god, it's brutal and necessary, uglier and more violent than I expect from science fiction of this era, laying bare the flaws of mankind while suggesting that what separates us and causes us pain is simply...ourselves. A hive-minded conqueror arrives from space, inhabits a most unlikely vessel, and sets to work attempting to unify humanity for the sole purpose of assimilating it. Not gonna lie—there is some hard to read stuff in here—but the payoff is so beautiful and uplifting that the reader can forgive the author for holding a mirror up to the worse we have to offer.

Why you shouldn't read this book: People kind of suck; we could be much better than we are, and this book kind of rubs it in your face. 

[Note: apparently this book is rare and difficult to acquire? And it's just been sitting on my shelf for 30 years!]

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Dreaming Jewels

Written by: Theodore Sturgeon

First line: They caught the kid doing something disgusting out under the bleachers at the high-school stadium, and he was sent home from the grammar school across the street.

Why you should read this book: It's pure old school science fiction, which posits an alien sort of life form living side by side with earthlings, interacting in surprising and unexpected ways with the inhabitants of our planet. In this story, we perceive them through their relationship with Horty Bluett, an unfortunate abused child who runs away from his extra-villainous adopted father and ends up being taken in by some loving circus freaks. Zena, a little person with undetectable but extraordinary abilities, knows more than she can say about Horty's enemies, and raises him to take revenge on his abuser, but Zena doesn't know everything, yet.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The villains are perhaps a bit one-dimensional; they're just so villainous.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer

Written by: Philip K. Dick

First line: Barefoot conducts his seminars on his houseboat in Sausalito.

Why you should read this book: In the third, and probably most accessible book of the VALIS trilogy, Angel Archer, a young, educated Berkeley woman watches with semi-rational perspective as her husband, Jeff; his father, the titular Timothy Archer, Bishop of California; and Tim's not-so-secret lover, Kirsten Lundgren, pursue knowledge and understanding into death. Angel loves and admire her father-in-law above all men, and experiences, with great distress, his descent into heresy and the occult, never believing Tim's revelations, but suffering along with him nonetheless. Tim walks into the desert searching for the truth about Christ, the host, and eternal life, and whether he dies there or walks out again in some transmigrated form is left to the reader to decide.

Why you shouldn't read this book: In the course of the novel, Timothy Archer is tried for heresy by the Episcopalians but ultimately outargues his detractors, and yet, pretty much every idea in this book would probably be considered heretical by most Christian standards of faith.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Death of a Salesman

Written by: Arthur Miller

First line: A melody is heard, played upon a flute.

Why you should read this book: Like most people, I read this classic play in high school, and I think maybe once or twice more as a very young adult, but this is definitely one of those stories that hits harder the older you get. Willy Loman is a salesman whose blustery confidence has always masked his failings as a father, as a husband, and as a salesman. In the twilight of his life, as the wages of lies, hypocrisy, and regrets are paid and his mind becomes unloosed in time, he begins to suspect that he is worth more dead than alive.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have to move a hundred twenty thousand units this month.


The Gift of Fear: Survival Signs That Protect Us from Violence

Written by: Gavin de Becker

First line: He had probably been watching her for a while.

Why you should read this book: Published almost a quarter century ago, this is still the definitive work on the subject of protecting oneself from violence by learning to recognize indicators that a person intends to enact violence upon your person before you get hurt. With detailed explanations of how to assess and evaluate threats on the fly, anecdotal examples from de Becker's years as a security expert, and a clear writing style, he conveys the importance of understanding and trusting ones own instinct and prizing personal safety. An extremely important book, recommended to anyone with any experience of violence in their lives, which is likely the vast majority of the population.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're prone to violence but you don't want anyone to know.


Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Divine Invasion

Written by: Philip K. Dick

First line: It came time to put Manny in school.

Why you should read this book: Herb Asher is having a weird existence, living as a colonist on a far-off planet where he's being guilt tripped into becoming the legal father of God and smuggling his new wife and their unborn fetus deity back to Earth; but also he's in dead and in cryogenic stasis reliving his entire life over and over while being subjected to elevator music and awaiting a new spleen; but also he's living in an alternate reality where his actions will have a major impact on the eternal battle between good and evil. Emmanuel, Manny, also known as Yahweh, or Yah, has his own issues, trying to remember who he is and what he's forgotten over the last few thousand years, which he needs to do before the Adversary foils his plans. This second book in the VALIS trilogy, while not a true sequel, continues to examine Dick's late-in-life musings about the nature of reality, this time with a strong focus on Judeo-Christian mythology.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If you need to know what is definitively real in a story and have it seem logical and rational, this isn't the book for you. People with no understanding of Torah and Kabbalah or no interest in Judeo-Christian mythology may have trouble keeping up.