Friday, June 23, 2006

recent reading: june

I find myself, this summer, with less disposable income than I have had at any time in the past ten years: my paychecks are covering rent and bills but just about everything else (including, say, groceries) either needs to be put on credit or done without.

This has kept me suspended in a foul mood that's hard to shake but it has also resensitized me to just what a friend the university library can be. Needless to say, I've been reading a lot. Here are some books I completed last month, with some brief notes:

Planet of Slums by Mike Davis
MacArthur fellow Mike Davis hunkers down and attempts to produce a readable synthesis of the enormous body of current literature on global urban poverty in this book, which ends up averaging about four footnotes per page. The general adherence to hard fact makes it difficult for Davis' usual theoretical insight to shine through, but the urgency of the subject matter more than compensates. Required reading.

Europeana, by Patrik Ourednik
Twentieth-century events, intriguingly reordered and recontextualized into something that more closely resembles experimental fiction than a history book. No characters as such: Ourednik instead works mostly with collective masses such as 'scientists' or 'soldiers' (although a few representative individuals shimmer through occasionally). Fascists and communists factor in as the big baddies, with capitalists and neoliberals getting more of a free pass than I'd be inclined to give. But then again I'm not Czech.

Are Prisons Obsolete?, by Angela Davis
Slim, readable critique of the prison-industrial complex. Points out ample racism and sexism, although, oddly, the titular question of "obsolescence" is mostly left unaddressed. Useful as an introduction to the prison abolition movement, although newcomers to the topic may want more convincing that punishment and/or reformation would function better in a post-prison world.

I've completed four other books this month; expect some notes on those soon. And the list of all the ones I've read this year lives here, as always.