Not-so-recent reads

Mixing It Up: Taking on the Media Bullies and Other Reflections (Ishmael Reed) — This is a collection of Reed’s more recent writings, with big pieces on Don Imus, Kobe Bryant, and the John McWhorter. He also has a set of interviews with Sonny Rollins and a nice essay on Charles Chesnutt. Reed’s writing is ascerbic as ever, but I found the essays a mixed bag. For me, some of the nicest pieces were the shorter ones, but they were all thought-provoking.

Karnak Café (Naguib Mahfouz) — This is a short novella set after the war in which Egypt lost Sinai. The narrator frequents this cafe where three younger university students also hang out. The three disappear one day during a string of arrests and return months later. The narrator begins to learn of their experiences and how their lives were destroyed by the government’s manipulation. It’s a tightly written and compelling story that seems all-too-relevant these days. I highly recommend it.

Jhegaala (Steven Brust) — This is the latest in the Vlad Taltos series, and is mainly about untangling the hidden relationships in a small town of Easterners. If you like the series already (or are addicted) you will read it anyway, and it definitely will not make sense without reading the rest of the series…

Yellow : Race in American Beyond Black and White (Frank H. Wu) — One of the earlier books on Asian Americans and politics that was targeted towards a large readership. Although it feels a little dated now (if that is possible), it still makes some solid points. However, the end of the book was a bit disappointing, with its big love for Deep Springs.

Let’s Get Free : A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice (Paul Butler) — After a riveting first chapter, ex-prosecutor Butler takes us on a tour of how the modern criminal justice system is stacked and requires active resistance from the public. He’s an expert on jury nullification, which I didn’t know about before. However, the book kind of derails in the last few chapters with its discussion of new technologies feeling a bit more rambling than making a tight point. It was a quick and interesting read, though.

New Roots in America’s Sacred Ground (Khyati Joshi) — This was a study of mostly middle-class 2nd generation desis and their religious practices. The strong parts of the book came from the interviews, but I wasn’t sure if I agreed with all of its conclusions. Also the focus on professionals versus working-class people makes me feel like the picture was incomplete.

Slumberland (Paul Beatty) — A deeply weird tale of DJ Darky (Schallplattenunterhalter Dunkelmann), who moves to Berlin to find an old jazzman and complete the most perfect beat. I couldn’t put this book down, but I think it appealed to me because of the combination of Germany and jazz.

Faceless Killers (Henning Mankell) — An early Kurt Wallander mystery. People say his mysteries are more violent than the norm, but I found it engrossing albeit depressing.

Maus I and Maus II (Art Spiegelman) — This is a re-read — I had read them apart and now I read them back to back. A must-read.

Writing for Social Scientists (Harold Becker) — I’m not a social scientist, but this book has a lot of useful advice on how to write and edit, which I think would have been useful while writing my thesis but is also good for thinking about research projects in general.

Asterios Polyp (David Mazzucchelli) — It’s a pretty amazingly constructed graphic novel about Ideas about Art, incredibly controlled to the point of sometimes feeling trite, but the way in which style and substance are married on the page makes it a real delight to read.

Black Hole (Chris Burns) — Deeply disturbing and somewhat traumatic and somewhat hopeful. I’ve been wanting to read this since an excerpt was published in McSweeney’s comics issue.

Interracial Intimacies (Randall Kennedy) — The first (and largest) part of the book is a history of black-white race relations in America from the perspective of interracial relationships. Kennedy chooses historical examples carefully to advance the thesis that deep and meaningful romantic relationships existed even during slavery. He then spends the last two chapters of the book railing against any and all race-matching in adoption, including a rather stunningly misguided argument against the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). In all of these arguments, Kennedy blithely dismisses some studies as wrong because they contradict his opinion (invalid), others for having low sample counts (valid), but in all cases argues his own point via anecdote. While detailed research and example cases help bolster his points about history, they fail stunningly to make a rational case about policy, and his un-nuanced view further highlights the poverty of his own evidence. In a sense, Kennedy advances a moral argument (“race matching is bad”) by saying contrary evidence is not representative but never making the case that his own evidence is representative. Maybe lawyers shouldn’t make arguments about ethics. In any case, this book left a bad taste in my mouth, not because I think race-matching is always good, but because the argument was so bad.

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