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Apparently there’s this blog… thing going around, like a game of tag or a chain letter. Yes, more like a chain letter. Once you get it, you’re supposed to answer a number of questions on your blog about books you like, and then pass it along to the next person. Jonathan Schwarz tagged me with this like 25 metric years ago, and I’m just now getting around to answering it. I’m not usually a fan of these sort of “you’ve got to do it cuz you’re supposed to” things, but I’ll answer em so as not to be a jerk to Jonathan (or to make it look as though I haven’t really been a jerk for the past 5 months). However I will break the chain and not send it to anyone else. I may not like being a jerk to people I like, but I’ve got no problem with being a jerk en masse.
Total number of books owned
I dunno, more than a hundred. I used to have around two hundred, but I gave a lot of them away via Craigslist to make my last move easier. Greedy hippies.
Last book bought
Noting that the question doesn’t say “last book stolen”, I think the answer is Diet for a Dead Planet: How the Food Industry Is Killing Us by Christopher D. Cook, which you Need to Read. It explains what American policy is about food, and how it’s so fucked up that bankrupts everybody (not just Americans) except big agribusiness. It also convinced me that a topic as mind-numbingly dull as agricultural subsidies is one of the most globally important issues around.
Last book read
I’m going to cheat here and mention all the books I’m reading at the moment (I generally have anywhere from 2 to, well, I guess 7, books going simultaneously).
Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America by Kristian Williams. Looks to be a thorough, painful scouring of American police brutality.
The Silent Takeover: Global Capitalism and the Death of Democracy by Noreena Hertz. Sadly, the impact of corporate globalization was largely buried after 9/11, with far too many activists thinking that if we just stopped the war and got Bush out of office everything would be peachy keen.
Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Expose of the Dark Side of American Policing by Norm Stamper. A fairly striking set of proposed police reforms, when you consider that they’re from a former police chief. A lot of horrific first-person tales of regular police abuse and arrogance. I’m greatly disturbed by this book at the moment, though, after the author tells us that he used to beat and terrorize his wives, but he’s had therapy and is better now.
I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away by Bill Bryson. I was hoping this book would be some nice insight about American culture from a man who was both a native and an outsider. Instead you get a bunch of short, quaint/droll essays about middle class minutiae by a wanker. A sometimes witty wanker, but overall I can’t stand this book.
The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It by Marcia Angell. This one got lost in the shuffle. Seems to me that it’s really a 50 page thesis on “how drug companies lie about their budgets” padded out, with some info about lobbying and marketing thrown in. Still, I oughtta at least read that core bit.
Harry Potter and the Something Something by JK Rowling. I usually have one of these books going at all times. They’re comfort food.
Five books that mean a lot to you
Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach. Sappy and new agey, but with some good absurdist humor. Not the sort of book I’d expect to like, but I think it came along at just the right time during my teen years. Full of proverbs about knowledge and learning and self from the eponymous characters “Messiah’s Handbook”. One I really took to heart:
Live to never be ashamed if anything you do or say is published around the world–
even if what is published is not true.
Mirrorshades: A Cyberpunk Anthology. Book of short stories that helped define the cyberpunk genre and fuck me up for life. Cyberpunk is essentially sci-fi that says “what if progress and technology don’t save the day? What if the future has just as many problems as it does today? Hell, what if they get worse?” Read it when I was thirteen, and it showed me that sometimes the hero doesn’t win. Actually, it showed me that sometimes the hero wasn’t much of a hero, loses, gives up, and becomes a forgotten, soulless junkie.
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever by Stephen R. Donaldson. I’m cheating a bit, this is a series, not a book (well, two series if we want to stretch it). This one helped fuck me up for good too. Dark, dark fantasy, heavy on the themes of guilt, corruption, and self-loathing. Most fantasy novels are your standard tale of Man from Our World gets transported to Magical World, where he becomes hero and savior. Thomas Covenant, however, is a bitter, bitter man who lashes out at all of the fantasy folk who come to meet him. He helps angrily and reluctantly, believing that this whole land is a delusion brought on by his leprosy. And when the citizens magically cure his disease and he can actually feel things again, he goes crazy and rapes a woman. He spends the rest of the books knowing what a foul, broken person he is, hating himself for what he’s done, and feeling even worse as the Magic Land’s people revere and honor him. And that’s just the beginning. Read that one in my early teens, too.
Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II by William Blum. Since my history education was so poor, this book has served as a framework for me to understand world history and international relations. Indonesia? That’s the country where the US supported that dictator, Suharto in the 70s. Nicaragua? That’s where the US supported the terrorist contra army to overthrow the democratically-elected, mildly socialist government in the 80s.
Days of War, Nights of Love: Crimethink for Beginners by the CrimethInc. Collective. Basically a brilliant, passionate book-length zine of radical political philosophizing and anarchist propaganda. Makes the argument that living a life of rage and joy is not only necessary for personal satisfaction, but also for saving the world as we know it. Sorta Fight Club meets Chomsky meets a block party.
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