Damn, this may have been the best week of books yet! And it was just last week.
I love Baratunde Thurston, I think he’s hilarious - but I was so-so on How To Be Black. It’s certainly a fun, quick read, and I enjoyed the parts of his life story that he told and the advice he gave. One flaw is that the book jumps around, from advice on how to be a black friend to a history of Thurston’s life at Sidwell Friends School and at Harvard, which can make it hard to keep track of his tone.
Pimp’s Up, Ho’s Down was a short book that discusses hip hop and feminism. Individual sections were quite good, although the writing was (as with How To Be Black) jumpy - switching from one topic to another without necessarily signaling very well or covering anything very fully. This book was helpful as an intro to some of the points that a feminist analysis can bring to hip hop culture, but felt quite incomplete.
bell hooks was on my agenda to read this summer: my only regret is I didn’t get to her work, specifically Feminism is for Everyone, sooner. I loved this book. I think it speaks strongly against the claim that feminism is no longer necessary, and that hooks argues rather persuasively that feminism needs to be a broader radical structure in order to be successful. The most beautiful antidote to Lean In.
I found out about How to Suppress Women’s Writing from an Ada Initiative [blogpost about Ada Lovelace]((http://adainitiative.org/2013/08/deleting-ada-lovelace-from-the-history-of-computing/), and despite the fact that the book was published in the1970s, I was able to request a copy from my local library system (Cambridge Public Library for the win!). This book is utterly fascinating especially as I embark upon another adventure into schooling where I imagine that I’ll primarily be exposed to old white dudes.
Joanna Russ uses each chapter to discuss a different method of suppressing women’s writing, taking the tone of a guidebook. For example, she starts by suggesting the “she didn’t write it…some man did” tact. You can then move on to the slightly more advanced “She wrote it, but she shouldn’t have…it was too controversial,” and then “she wrote it, but look what she wrote about…she wrote about women and the family. Clearly meaningless,” and so on and so forth. It’s irreverent, biting and hilarious. Russ also does an excellent job dissecting how women’s contributions to the literary canon stay at about 8% of anthologies, mostly because women writers need to be seen as truly exceptional to be included. I wish this had been included in my high school English studies - it’s a critical look at how canons are conventionally constructed, with a strong literary focus.
So The New Jim Crow is my new go-to non-fiction recommendation. I was totally blown away by how convincing Michelle Alexander’s argument was. Basic summary: the current “colorblind” criminal justice system leads to MASSIVE inequality and a minority underclass of felons. Each step in the system (from searches to prosecutorial discretion in charging defendants to plea bargaining to parole to life upon release) creates additional imbalances between minorities accused of crimes and whites. I thought the title was a bit of exaggeration when I picked this up - and I was shocked to see how much I was wrong. The only flaw in this books is the focus on Barack Obama. I understand that Alexander was reacting against claims that the US was in a post-racism state due to the election of a black president, but it distracts from the main point of the text.