June's Bookshelf

June was an all-star month for me with reading--not just because I read over 20 books (including 3 traditional books), but because there were so many amazing books to explore and enjoy.  Many of them are under review embargo but I can't help but mention them briefly here.  For instance, listening to Homey Don't Play That!: The Story of In Living Color and the Black Comedy Revolution by David Peisner was not only a nostalgic trip down memory lane to when I was a kid and became enamored with In Living Color, but it's a fascinating oral history that contextualizes the different influences that created the moment for the show and how the show played a large role in the expansion of African American and people of color's representation in television over the last thirty years.  What Truth Sounds Like: Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson connects from James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Harry Belafonte and many others to some of the most powerful and engaging people of color creators of today including (but not limited to): Ta-Nehisi Coats, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Shonda Rhimes and many others.  Finally, in this discussion of the problems of filter bubbles, online privacy, and problematic sorting in digital environments, it behooves you to read and think deeply about Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble.  If any of these books intrigue you, then definitely check out my mini-series:  Books for White Folks; you'll find many more amazing books on the topic of racism, whiteness, and society.

Ok, onto the big selections for the month that I can ramble a bit more about!

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

Book cover - The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
I don't know that I'm a hardcore Steinbeck fan but I generally do like his work.  Of Mice And Men is a favorite and though I've never read it in full, The Grapes of Wrath also has a lot of weight attached to it and I've read several of his short stories.  So when I picked up The Red Pony, I had some sense of what to anticipate.  The short novel explores the life of Jody, a young boy living on a farm with his family in 1930s (or so) California.  He's a mild-mannered boy with a general curiosity about the world around and yet still widely naive about the ways of the world.  The book is set up in four chapters that are essentially four episodes over roughly a two-year period.  On the farm, Jody has only his mother, two dogs (who continually abandon him for other activities), his often-time distant father, and the farm help, Billy Buck, who Jody looks up to the most.  The story begins with Jody being given a (you guessed it) red pony to care for and raise.  However, what starts off as a typical tale of youth-gaining-responsibility largely turns to a youth having to reconcile the harsher lessons of the world, even when those surrounding him have the best intentions.  Through each of the four episodes, we witness Jody learning, not just about the way of the world but the ways of the people around him.  Steinbeck traces the transition of our heroes from gods to mere mortals and with his simple yet sophisticated style does not so much linger but does just that--gives us the outlines of these experiences and a very light sense of their implications.  In doing so, the book seems less a tale for youth and more for adults to consider their own possibly painful loss of heroes.   


Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde

I underestimated Lorde and for that I am sorry.  I have a lot of works that invoke Lorde and some of which could be seen as direct offspring from Sister Outsider.  In that way, I (wrongfully) assumed that in listening to her book that it would be affirming but not necessarily enlightening.  And well, silly me.  Now, not all essays are amazing but all are worth reading.  For instance, Notes from a Trip to Russia starts the collection and proves intriguing to consider the differences of experiences that Lorde has while in Russia (along with reasonable criticism--it's not all praise).  But then we get amazing gems such as Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, where Lorde discusses the need and relevance of sexuality as a key element in women claiming power.  Then, of course, there is the classic, "The Master's Tool will Never Dismantle the  Master's House" wherein she takes white feminism to task for their assimilative approaches to feminism and failure to create space for black feminist ideas.  I found this particular passage most palpable and still resonant with the current discourse:  "Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educated men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master's concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women -- in the face of tremendous resistance -- as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought."  In total, I'm struck by how much her criticism both rings true to today and how in many ways, she was also having conversations (e.g. the importance of intersectionality--without using that term) that white people are only starting to have, some 35 years later. 


Making Sense of the Alt-Right by George Hawley

Hawley traces the history and influences on the rise the Alt-Right from the inside perspective rather than the traditional narrative bandied about by most media outlets.  In doing so, he provides a nuance that traditional media does not have space for but that nuance is not a defense or apology for the Alt-Right and what they stand for but rather, a deep need to understand what drives people to embrace what many (rightfully) see as a hateful, fear-based, and ignorant agenda.  Like any good history, Hawley illustrates the predecessors to the Alt-Right and some of their influences of the 1980s and 1990s--particular white nationals and white supremacist groups (yes, there is a distinction to them; even if to others it is a distinction without difference).  From there, he shifts into exploring the pivotal role of the Internet and the thriving communities the arose over the 2000s and 2010s along with the moments of harmony and discord as the different groups that compose the Alt-Right shifted from a more elitist discourse to justify their racist believes to one that often embraces a mixture of chaos, trolling, and gaslighting.  What strikes me about Hawley's work is that he does well with articulating how the Alt-Right asserted itself and saw itself as supremely different not just from the general right in the US (both are uncomfortable with one another, yet both have fed each out consistently over the last 50 years).  Additionally, it proves enlightening (though not necessarily rewarding) to discover how even some of those most associated with the Alt-Right by mainstream society (Richard Spencer, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Steve Bannon) are largely disliked, disregarded, or disdained by the Alt-Right.  In total, Hawley's work is useful (albeit slightly nauseating) book exposing a group that needs to be understood in order to minimize the damage and harm they represent.  


BOOKS

  • The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
  • Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal
  • The Atrocities by Jeremy C.Shipp

AUDIOBOOKS

  • Homey Don't Play That!: The Story of In Living Color and the Black Comedy Revolution by David Peisner
  • Rewiring Education: How Technology Can Unlock Every Student's Potential by John Couch
  • What Truth Sounds Like: Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson
  • Has Anyone Seen the President? by Michael Lewis
  • Star Wars: Last Shot: A Han and Lando Novel by Daniel José Older
  • Black Panther: Who Is The Black Panther? by Jesse J. Holland
  • So Close to Being the Sh*t, Y’all Don’t Even Know by Retta
  • The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
  • The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King
  • Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble
  • Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde
  • The Tyranny of Metrics by Jerry Z. Muller
  • Making Sense of the Alt-Right by George Hawley
  • Identity Economics: How Our Identities Shape Our Work, Wages, and Well-Being by George A. Akerlof
  • Gamify: How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things by Brian Burke

GRAPHIC NOVELS

  • Beowulf by Santiago García
  • John Carter: The End by Brian Wood
  • The Ashes of Jedha (Star Wars #7) by Kieron Gillen
  • Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil, Vol. 1 by Jeff Lemire
  • Hasib and the Queen of Serpents: A Tale of a Thousand and One Nights by David B.

Wanna catch up on my latest blog posts about books?

Check out some of my 2018's books:

Curious about what I've read?  Check out the annual good reads list:
I also have more specialized lists such as ones on

What have been some of your most recent reads of late?  What book do you find yourself recommending to everyone?  What author(s) can't you get enough of?




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