It’s finally officially 2021 and the President’s tweets are extremely boring, the White House Press Room podium isn’t a campaign prop, Dr. Fauci is liberated to tell us the hard truths, we’re back in the WHO and the Paris Climate Agreement, we’re not trying to undermine NATO, there’s no budget for a new border wall, our federal approach to immigration can no longer be summarized as “cruelty,” and grownups are working on an actual federal response to COVID … it’s a new day in America! Phew!
Many things, of course, are the same as they were on January 19, in the waning hours of the last administration: Republicans in DC are still beholden to the insurrectionist wing of their party, Mitch McConnell is still effectively in charge of the Senate, the right-wing takeover of the judiciary is a challenge, and the interplay of corporations and their leaders, money, technology, and power, remains… fraught. .
But ignore all that for the moment; it’s time for Books We Should Chat About! One of the things I’m bringing with me from the Year That Shall Not Be Named is these monthly book recommendations/pleas to join me in my bookworm nerdy bliss. I really truly hope you’ll read these books and send me an email or text or leave a comment or schedule a wine date to talk about:
Love and Trouble, by Claire Dederer
Another glorious memoir by a woman of a certain age (my age, just to be clear) unpacking the truly strange experience of growing older as a woman in America. As I told my mom when I was decidedly not recommending this book for her retirement community book club: Love and Trouble is a memoir of Dederer’s relationship to sex. Also Seattle in the 1980s, but mostly sex. She explores the weirdness of the lines between empowerment and objectification, agency and victimization, independence and being left to fend for yourself. She writes hilariously, sometimes heart-breakingly, with interesting and novel style, and with a kind of shocking vulnerability about growing from a young sexual female being into an older one. Most of the women I know will adore this book. I’m curious about if the men do. If you’re a man and you read Love and Trouble, let me know. (Other memoirs by women of a certain age I’ve enjoyed recently: Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, You’ll Grow Out of It, and Uncanny Valley, two of which admittedly only sort of fit this category.)
What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly
A worthwhile slog through a fascinating theory of technological innovation as a form of biological evolution. Kelly is ultimately a technology optimist, but grounded in the reality that progress might look like just tiny leans in the direction of things getting better. It’s a slog because Kelly brings an extremely broad set of examples and evidence to bear in sometimes excruciating detail in support of his thesis that we should understand the march of technology as part and parcel of the evolution of our species. More than part and parcel — predictable and inevitable. Some of the most compelling evidence is in the examples that treat parts of our biology — our camera-like eyeballs, for example — as technology that has simultaneously evolved across multiple independent branches of life on earth. But methinks he might protest too much, though: how powerful can a theory be if it requires scores of extremely detailed examples, sometimes repeated ad nauseum, to support various tentacles of thinking? That said, What Technology Wants, published in 2010, remains a usefully different way to look at tech in our world, and possibly the people who’ve propelled it.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott
I re-read this lovely tome roughly every year or so, and experience it as sort of an antidote to my to-do list and a bulwark against being paralyzed by imposter syndrome. Lamott is like a best friend/auntie/super supportive mentor not just telling you to keep on keeping on, that what you’re working on — whatever it is, even if that’s not “work” at all — is valuable, but also showing you a gentle way to get on with it. I try but sometimes fail to avoid “hustle culture” and the gazillion sure-fire systems, almost always hawked by a bro, demanding that I go to war with myself to charge through an ever-growing list of things I should be doing to tear the fabric of the universe, or something. Lamott is the anti-bro, reminding me that there’s a better, gentler, more humane way to live, work, and write.
Do you need more books to choose from? A compilation of all of my 2020 recommendations is here, and my friend Kerry publishes a glorious weekly-ish list at What Should I Read. My library hold list is chock full thanks to her recommendations.
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