My (partial) 2018 reading list
This year, I kept pretty good track of what I was reading. I read even more than what's below, but pulled out these highlights and grouped them into themes, because I think other folks I know may find them worth reading too. I've tried to add one or two sentences after each book/ article. Some could be entire blog post series. Others, I'm not yet sure what to do with. A few, I'm so unsure what to do with that I didn't even include them here (and quite a few are fiction) and a few were just random pleasure reading (e.g. a thick tome on the construction of Hoover Dam, gimme that infrastructure).
These are also only first-reads, so there are other things I reread this year which aren't included.
Pacifism, Faith, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age
- Almighty: Courage, Resistance, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age by Dan Zak (2017). One of my must-read recommendations from this year's list. Zak ties together the Plowshares movement, the history of the nuclear bomb (including effects on the Marshall Islands), and what's still happening in America. This focuses on a 2012 Plowshares action which reminded many how the country is still actively maintaining its nuclear stockpile.
- The World Will be Saved by Beauty: an Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother by Kate Hennessy (2017). A biography of Dorothy Day by her youngest granddaughter. This book focuses on Dorothy's relationship with her only daughter and the love and imperfection depicted in it helped me make peace with some parts of my own life.
- Women Strike for Peace: Traditional Motherhood and Radical Politics in the 1960s by Amy Swerdlow (1993). Swerdlow was part of the original movement and went on to write about it. A powerful combination of first-hand storytelling and reflection on the strengths of Women Strike for Peace and its complicated relationships with respectability and whiteness.
- “The One Who Burns Herself for Peace” by Cheyney Ryan, published Hypatia v.9, no. 2, pp.21-39, Spring 1994. Reflects on self-immolation of Alice Herz through the lens of Dorothy Day's commentaries on Catholic self-immolators and broader teachings.
- Hiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician, August 6-September 30, 1945 by Michihiko Hachiya, M.D. (1955, 2005). A chronicle of the days after the bomb was dropped. The pain and confusion and illness and mutual aid made this a very emotional read. Strangely, I cried the most at Dr. Hachiya's grief for the emperor's shame.
- “Hiroshima” by John Hershey (1946). A companion read to Hiroshima Diary. Link is to New Yorker, where you can read it.
This is the Way the World Ends…
- “There will come soft rains” by Ray Bradbury (1950). My coworker Adam shared this with me when we were reading “The House that Spied on Me” and it's another on the list which caused me to cry.
- Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande (2014). A must-read for anyone thinking about the end of their own life or with older family members. So, all of us.
- The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing (2017). Interconnection, globalization, catastrophe, climate change, anthropocene, all through the lens of one mushroom—the matsutake.
- The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (2007). A strange comfort.
- From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty (2017). As someone not comfortable with modern American ways of thinking about death, this was an important read. This is a cheater entry as I actually read this in December 2017, but I reread it again in 2018.
Race, Racism, and White Supremacy
- “Letter from a Region in my Mind” by James Baldwin (1962). I don't know what to say except that everyone should read this and you can, at the link.
- Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy by Elizabeth Gillespie McRae (2018). A must-read for white women in America and should-read for everyone else.
- Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horowitz (2011). The story of John Brown's insurrection. Bought at the John Brown Wax Museum in Harper's Ferry, which gave it immediacy, but it also has parallels to these times.
- Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and the Battle for Native American Identity by David Hurst Thomas (2000). A history of American anthropology and native artifacts, identity, racial theory, and the c/overt white supremacy which runs through it.
How We Should Be, Better
- No More Heroes: Grassroots Challenges to the Savior Mentality by Jordan Flaherty (2017). Particularly important read for white Americans. How and why big Invisible Children or Kony 2012 or “let's all go save New Orleans” takes are wrong, how thinking of oneself as hero or martyr is wrong, and why it's critical we get involved in grassroots efforts and follow the lead of folks already doing the work, most often people of color.
- Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas (2018). On how corporate and personal philanthropy at scale hurts us all and forestalls massive social changes we need. Particularly compelling when read in tandem with Le Guin's The Dispossessed and Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You as I accidentally did.
- Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World by Elizabeth Spelman (2002). I read this at the beginning of the year and don't have much in the way of notes, but it grounded some of my other reading in repair.
- “Epistemological Luddism: Reinvigorating a Concept for Action in 21st Century Sociotechnical Struggles” by Michael Lachney and Taylor Dotson, Social Epistemology: A Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Policy, 11 Jun 2018. What does it look like to decommission, destroy, or otherwise rid ourselves of technology? Examples include technology, transportation, and student testing.
These just didn't fit well into one category.
- Beyond Economics & Ecology: The Radical Thought of Ivan Illich by Ivan Illich (coll. 2013). I read a good bit of Illich this year and would recommend this collection of essays for how we can think about the world.
- Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy by Tressie McMillan Cottom (2016/2018 reprint) and Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry by Helaine Olen (2013). Both books address the underlying systemic factors in play, labor, and how for-profit colleges and much personal finance writing shift responsibility for social problems onto individuals to solve for themselves.
- “A Non-Euclidean View of California as a Cold Place to Be” by Ursula K. Le Guin (1982). When Le Guin died, I chose this to read in her memory, a first-read for me. Beautiful.
- “Who Killed the World? White Men & the Technocratic Library of the Future” by Rafia Mirza and Maura Seale, chapter 8 of Topographies of Whiteness (a 2017 entry, but I reread and shared it throughout 2018, so only a semi-cheat as I did read it).
- An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon (2017). An extraordinary sci-fi novel about memory, oppression, and hope. Also one of the best neurodivergent protagonists I've ever read.
- The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer. A journey.
- Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand (2015). I love 70s British horror films and this is one if it were a novel. Beautiful, soft, and strange.
- Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (2017). Weird fiction. Magical realism. Something. Must-read.
- Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (2017). A beautifully-constructed story, a gripping novel with fantastic technique. At times, I could hardly breathe. Also, I was surprised that my uncle's auto shop in Cleveland was included, and Ms. Ng told me on Twitter that she'd gone there for years. At that moment, everything in the story became strangely real to me.
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (1967). I finally read it. I'm glad I did. I'm glad I didn't until now.
- A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr (1959). Same as above.