October's Bookshelf

Well, I may not have gotten to as many physical books as I wanted (I'm almost done with one--does that count--also, it's 700+ pages, so it's slowing my average--hahaha), but I definitely reviewed a lot more books this month, finding that if I write up the reviews right after listening, I've got a lot to say (no surprise there, right?).  It's another month of fascinating reads and I invite you to try some of these great books!

Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula by Bram Stoker

Shortly after the original Dracula was published, it was translated and published in Iceland. However, this version is a significantly different version of Dracula than what readers are familiar with. This version focuses about two-thirds of its time on Thomas Harker (as opposed to Jonathan in Stoker's original novel) and his time spent traveling to and in Dracula's castle. Within the castle, readers are exposed to entirely new plot threads that include a seductive female vampire that Harker is repeatedly seduced by, a more complicated plot to invade Europe, and a degenerate race of vampires within the castle. While this version is told in first-person and is elaborate in its detail for the first half, the second half (the part readers are most familiar with taking part in England and the like) flitters by quickly in third-person and feels more like summation than story. As someone interested in how popular stories are told and retold through culture, I appreciated reading this and seeing how the history of the manuscript and translations may have changed the Dracula that I know. In fact, the numerous introductions and prefaces to the text are a fascinating literary discussion about how this text was discovered, the role to which Stoker approved or was involved in the translation, and the liberties that the translator took in translating it. That's probably the best part of the whole book, learning how and where this version came from. The story itself is decent but because the second half comes as an afterthought, it feels less exciting. I would have loved to see what the world of the first half of this translated text would have produced as a second half of the story if the same amount of detail and attention was given.

The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die by Keith Payne

Payne's is an insightful and useful book to consider in making sense of the rise of populism in the world today. There are several significant points that he brings to the table to discuss how inequality impacts out daily experiences and perceptions. One key piece that he highlights and drives home throughout the book is how increased inequality (and awareness of that inequality) decreases trust in the systems and trust in people. Societies (like the US) where the unequal incomes become increasingly extreme (such as CEOs making 400 times more than the front line employee) further destabilizes society. Coupled with this, he emphasizes that some in a society may feel like they are subject to inequality, even when they are not. This sense of inequality can often result in a more reactive society that seeks quick gains (illicitly or immorally) while also castigating long-term planning. The most fascinating issue unpacked is how those exist in impoverished conditions act rationally to the world they live in, even when those from middle or upper class do not believe so, particularly around their choices regarding consumption, saving (or absence of it), and what we argue are "healthy choices." The totality of Payne's research shows that how we often understand (and judge and make decisions) about our society are fueled by assumptions and misunderstandings about what inequality looks like and how it is experienced across the socio-economic spectrum.

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte

Book cover to What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte
Catte, a native from Appalachia country sets down the path to redefine and open up the definition of Appalachian country from a limited, white, working or impoverish class dominated by an honor and warrior society. She sets about this with two main goals; deconstructing the myth and its impact on Appalachia culture--most recently perpetuated by J. D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy--and articulating the complexity of and richness of identities, including strong representations by people of color, non-Scots-Irish descendants, and LGBTQA people. As someone who has grown up, left, and now returned to her Appalachian roots, Catte finds the depictions of her place of origin problematic on a person and intellectual level and therefore traces the history of that depiction and the ways in which images and concepts of Appalachia has been used to promote eugenics, squash workers' rights, and as a sympathetic distraction in political discourse. It's a powerful take-down that will leave readers questioning the monolithic portrayal and the ways in which it is used in society (e.g. the 2016 election). What I liked most about Catte's book is that her argument is rooted in this idea that Appalachia is a microcosm of the country at large in the sense that it is much more purple and mixed than the ways in which it is represented. Thus, she spends a good amount of time tracing out these diverse identities and political mixture, trying to remind readers that we do harm when we conceptualize a group (area of the country, state, etc) as a singular identity and in doing so, create further tension among the different (and similar) people.

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas

Invoking Upton Sinclair's sentiment that one's understanding of a problem is not likely to happen if their salary is based upon them not understanding it, Giridharadas explores how today's elite--benefactors of increasing market-driven forces and ideologies increasingly claim that they have the know-how to fix the world's worst problems. However, so many of these problems (poverty, environmental degradation, racial/gender tension, crime) are often created, sustained, or aggravated by the viewpoint that the unregulated market can solve all problems. But Giridharadas does more than just lay the argument and the evidence out. Rather, he interviews some of the successful and vocal in this realm (the elites advocating for social change, but not so much social disruption that it affects their bottom line or personal activities) and draws out the tensions in their ideas and even their own doubts about what they are doing. His most powerful critique comes in the form of comparing the present elite with that of Carnegie and his declaration of the importance to do charity and foundational work. In both instances, you have leaders of major organizations that invest in preventing governments from regulating them (or taxing them for that matter) and then they use their money for charity. And while that seems fair, their solutions are often in market-type approaches (the saying about when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail comes to mind) that continues to exacerbate and cause new problems. Secondly, he notes that it's problematic for private individuals to set about their own agendas about how to fix social ills and in fact, that was one of the key criticisms of monarchy--a singular, unelected person deciding what was the right way to address social problems. However, it's not a cry for big government but rather a recognition that the entire villainization of government has allowed for the overtaking of a mentality of market-forces to solve everything and the result has been a growing and disproportionate amount of wealth accumulating in a smaller percent of the population, coupled with solutions to societal woes that rarely do much to solve those woes but sufficiently pay dividends for the elites.

Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing by Marie Hicks

Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing by Marie Hicks
This is a fascinating read on so many levels. On one, it captures the ways in which institutions (named the British government) perpetuates inequalities (namely, sexism) in explicit and implicit ways and then tracks the ways in which that structural inequality results in the loss of opportunity and resources for the nation. Hicks also unpeels a deeply problematic history of erasure of the prominent and important roles that women played in the rise of the computer and digital age, as the original and dominant group of programmers throughout the UK from the 1940s to the 1970s. Through her analysis, interviews, and archival recovery, she shows the ways in which women were muted, perceived as (and undermined as) threats by men for their abilities with computers. She shows how for many years Britain tried to conceptualize programming as a skill-less and feminine role to which women would be suited (temporarily--just until marriage) but to which men should be managing. This created many situations where men were trying to direct people with no real sense of what it is that they did, resulting in women needing to train the men who would replace them as leaders on teams. While reading this book, I was continually surprised (maybe I shouldn't have been) of the various examples and quotes that Hicks pulled from that showed how much of a conscious effort was in place to keep women moving upwards within organizations and how their work (work we consider the cutting edge) was so undermined by Britain. I definitely recommend it as a read for anyone interested in women's history, equal rights, and technology.

Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor by Virginia Eubanks

The supposed quest to create more efficient systems within government programs through automation and algorithms--particularly those that focus on social welfare--is not so much a cost-saving, efficient, and effective approach to caring for society's most vulnerable but rather a means of making the process harder, more-complicated, and near-impossible to challenge for those who suffer from the many bugs (or features as the case may be) of the technologies being used. Starting first with a look at the rise of poorhouses and the ways in which the poor have been penalized and punished in US history, Eubanks then moves into looking at the introduction of more technological solutions that are often purported to improve services, save money, and reduce fraud and abuse. So often, as Eubanks shows in case after case, the reduction in fraud and abuse more or less comes at the cost of many more people being accused of fraud and abuse (false positives) that come to have many long-term ramifications, including destroying progress in people's lives or limiting their ability to get future help when needed. As she emphasizes, the many different tools used to police the poor in many ways perpetuate their status and keep them from escaping poverty. The introduction of algorithms and programs that in many ways perpetuate negative stereotypes about the poor, only exacerbate it. What I found most powerful about Eubanks works was the ways in which she helps the reader understand how the technology continues to appear neutral but that the assumptions of the programmers and the ease with which technology moves from a "recommendation" to double-check a potential problem to "evidence" of a problem creates a system that produces bias just by the mere process of producing data and reports on that data. The best example of this is the ways in which in many systems, reports of abuse (real or otherwise) increase the chances in which future reports of abuse are deemed more serious--even though, the reporting mechanism might be entirely arbitrary. Anyone interested in social justice, social work, or understanding how being poor subjects one to increasing criminalization should check this book out.

Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students by Zaretta Lynn Hammond

Culturally responsive teaching is often miscategorized as merely including culturally-relevant material when possible or worse, lowering expectations of learners based on cultural assumptions and stereotypes (and racial stereotypes for that matter). As such, it's an approach to teaching and learning that is often taken up by educators who have a stronger sense of implicit bias, stereotype threat, racism and ethnocentrism along with the implications of each for teaching and learning. Contextualizing the importance and value of culturally-responsive pedagogy (CRP), Hammond moves into discussing exactly how the lens and approach of CRP actually blend seamlessly with everything we know about learning and the brain. She adds to the discussion by highlighting how CRP can go further in enhancing the learning of all students and create more meaningful teaching experiences. Overall, I loved how she chunked her material (practicing what she preached) and made sure to provide clear explanations and strong (i.e. culturally-relevant) examples on how the concepts work but also in how to enact the recommendations she offered. The biggest challenge that I found with the work was that so much of what she talked about was grounded in having additional space and additional time, something that many educators are hard pressed for. Regardless, this book should be something any educator or anyone thinking about to be more inclusive should be reading.


AUDIOBOOKS

  • Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • The Dain Curse by Dashiell Hammett
  • Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights by Kenji YoshinoThe Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die by Keith Payne
  • Everydata: The Misinformation Hidden in the Little Data You Consume Every Day by John Johnson
  • What to Read and Why by Francine Prose
  • American Cultural History: A Very Short Introduction by Eric Avila
  • What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte
  • Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas
  • Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students by Zaretta Lynn Hammond
  • Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor by Virginia Eubanks
  • Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing by Marie Hicks
  • Big Data, Little Data, No Data: Scholarship in the Networked World by Christine Borgman
  • How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide by Crystal Marie Fleming
  • Dracul by Dacre Stoker
  • My Mother. Barack Obama. Donald Trump. And the Last Stand of the Angry White Man by Kevin Powell
  • For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics by Leah Daughtry
  • Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu
  • Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

GRAPHIC NOVELS

  • Star Wars, Vol. 8: Mutiny at Mon Cala (Star Wars, #8) by Kieron Gillen
  • Descender, Vol. 6: The Machine War by Jeff Lemire

Wanna catch up on my latest blog posts about books
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