My Current Bookshelf - November 2017

Despite being neck-deep in research and writing, I managed to get a good chunk of reading done in November--though entirely in audio and comic form; also, I'm posting this in January, so clearly getting to writing was a bit of a challenge.  I will return to regular books as well in the near future but textual reading is still largely articles and chunks of books.  Still, audiobooks continue to provide a wonderful stream of fascinating books and ideas so it's not like I'm at a loss for books to talk about!

Bring Back the Bureaucrats: Why More Federal Workers Will Lead to Better (and Smaller!) Government by Jon Diiluio

This is one of those small books that manages to say a good deal in order to start a meaningful discussion about untried or reconfigured ideas.  Diiluio puts forward an argument that while, numerically, it looks like the government is massive, the reality is quite different.  When one accounts for all people that receive some type of check for services, the number is large but when you actually look at how many people are actual government employees, this number has been stagnant at best for decades.  He argues that part of why we have so much waste is because we have contracted and subcontracted work out further and further while adding on more and more responsibilities to so many agencies as well as increasing demands for accountability measures (which in themselves, require more time and effort to manage).  He argues that the rise in professionalism of the last three decades could mean that agencies have a more competent and skillful staff and manage more effectively if there were more actual federal employees; that is, by adding more federal employees, it can lessen the burden and the costs of all the people currently employed.  Coupled with his long-essay are two other essays that offer a critique; one from a liberal view and the other from a more conservative/libertarian view. Each offers their thoughts to Diiluio's consideration and then he comes back to respond to them, making the book a rather interesting and civilly engaged dialogue (something so lost in this day and age).  Not everyone will agree with Diiluio's work but it's presented in a way that at least shows an earnest interest by all involved to think more critically about what it means to effectively run the US.


The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class by David Roediger

Wages of Whiteness Book Cover
Roediger's text is a fascinating and powerful read in thinking about whiteness and its implications for the 21st century.  While it is focused on the 18th and 19th century, it seems like so much of its discussion around how whiteness itself is fused into conceptions of work and identity and purposely contrasted against non-white identities (primarily African American in this case but applicable beyond that).  Through the book, he identifies interesting tensions that were parsed out through language, law, and even violence to meld together a white consciousness with American conceptions of working class.  He shows in innumerable examples a conscious effort by whites who often performed the same labor as African Americans to assert their distinctness in a game of "I may be working class but at least I'm not black"--a refrain that has historically been intentionally used or encouraged to keep two groups of people at odds with one another (despite the overwhelming commonalities of class and daily-struggle each face).  What I like particularly about Roediger's book is his ability to follow and connect these strands of thought throughout the 19th century and essentially set the scene for the 20th century as the US entered into legal segregation and in many northern cities, the Irish transcended racializing (though not nearly as universal as the African American plight) as a powerful means of emphasizing Roediger's overall discussion.


Introducing Baudrillard: A Graphic Guide by Chris Horrocks and Zoran Jevtic

Chris Horrocks and Zoran Jevtic set out to explain the range and complexity of Baudrillard's works mixed with specs of biography through a mixture of exposition, quotations, and largely, reproduced or augmented images.  The book (or graphic novel or mix-media, depending on one’s definition) is ambitious in its attempt to explain Baudrillard solely within his words and direct sentiments or that of other critics while simultaneously playfully mixing in images of and depictions of his discussion and Baudrillard, himself.


Baudrillard A Graphic Guide Book Cover
The book begins with several pages raising the question of who is Baudrillard and why is he important before switching into a short one-page biography that glosses over largely the first 37 years of his life, from his birth in Algiers to studying at the Lycee and his intellectual forefathers (Satre and Lefebvre).  From there, the book hops about and often sprints through a series of topics that it both tries to explain and articulate Baudrillard’s contribution to in a way that can feel scattershot.  A few pages in a row may make coherent sense but then it’s onto a new topic without any substantial continuity or clarity of intention.  Rare is the opportunity when an example is made or laymen’s terms used to breakdown Baudrillard’s complex ideas.  Occasionally, some section later on might reference an earlier section but that feels almost as an afterthought. 

Perhaps this is the authors’ attempt to communicate the frenzied directions that Baudrillard’s works seemed to take or depict the senselessness of ordered meaning.  That is, the format itself is a critique of grammar and syntax of the genre of introductory works as a simulation of what introductions signal. This assumption might also extend to the dozens of reproduced images of Baudrillard himself (or who I’m assuming is Baudrillard) throughout the book.  Though it’s almost never the full body of the Baudrillard but usually only his head. Even when his full body is present, it’s usually distorted from normal proportions to look something like a bobble-head.  These are particularly interesting forms to emulate.  Presenting the Baudrillard's full body as a bobble-head seems to take Baudrillard and to put him (and his ideas) onto the body of an object that is typically mass-produced and representational of other bodies in often irreverent and caricatured ways. This Baudrillardian bobblehead is embedded on a 2-dimensional page and offered as a “real” in the sense that the authors’ indicate (through word balloons) words coming from his mouth.  When we read, we are imagining this representation (Baudrillard on the page) of a representation (Baudrillard as a bobblehead trinket) is connected to the “real Baudrillard”--a living breathing person, who has been dead for nearly a decade. But the fun doesn’t stop there because the authors constantly crop his head onto other bodies and spaces throughout the text including a baby (p. 6), half a photo (p. 28), a pound note (p. 62), cubist art (p. 66), a stone statue, (p. 82), a baby in a birth canal (p. 93), a soldier (p. 119), and much more.  Thus, Baudrillard’s head becomes a visual synecdoche of the man, his mind, and simulation itself.    

While I would hope the preceding paragraph would be entirely intentional, I have my reservations given that I have read half-dozen of these Introducing guides and they are largely all the same in their mix-media approaches.  This is not to say it couldn’t be the intention, but there is a formulaic (mass produced) element to the how the book is constructed.  The one lingering critique of the book is that it moves too fast and assumes the clarity of its own ideas, leaving readers (particularly this one) often not really understanding the points being made.  

Check out other reading recommendations from 2017 (and you can always look at all of my books that I've read on GoodReads):



AUDIOBOOKS

  • Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything by Kelly  Weinersmith
  • The Ideas Industry: How Pessimists, Partisans, and Plutocrats Are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas by Daniel Drezner
  • Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right by Angela Nagle
  • Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials by Malcolm Harris
  • Who Can You Trust?: How Technology is Rewriting the Rules of Human Relationships by Rachel Botsman
  • Bring Back the Bureaucrats: Why More Federal Workers Will Lead to Better (and Smaller!) Government by Jon Diiluio
  • Lower Ed: How For-Profit Colleges Deepen Inequality in America by Tressie McMillan Cottom
  • The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class by David Roediger
  • Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the Twentieth Century by Alex Sayf Cummings
  • Spider-Man: Forever Young Stefan Petrucha

GRAPHIC NOVELS

  • Introducing Baudrillard: A Graphic Guide by Chris Horrocks and Zoran Jevtic
  • The Walking Dead, Vol. 28: A Certain Doom  by Robert Kirkman
  • Outcast, Vol. 5: The New Path  by Robert Kirkman
  • Introducing Baudrillard by Chris Horrocks
  • Royal City, Vol. 1: Next of Kin Jeff Lemire

What about you reader?  What book recommendations do you have for me?



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