My 2021 in Books, Part 1: Nonfiction
As the pandemic drags on, I’ve continued to wrestle with my To-Be-Read pile, which somehow keeps growing no matter how many I read. In 2021, I finished 76 books (77 if I finish the latest Stephanie Plum by Friday). Here are the nonfiction ones, with commentary and a few links to ones I reviewed in earlier posts.
Julie Brown, Perversion of Justice: The Jeffrey Epstein Story
John Carreyrou, Bad Blood: Secrets & Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
Michael D’Antonio, The Hunting of Hillary
Michael Eric Dyson, What Truth Sounds Like
Susan Fowler, Whistle Blower
Henry Louis Gates Jr., Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Cro
Martin Luther King Jr. (Cornel West, ed.), The Radical Kin
Talia Lavin, Culture Warlords: My Journey into the Dark Web of White Supremacy
Kate Manne, Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women
Jonathan Metzl, Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland
Amy Roost & Alison Hirshfeld, Eds., Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences During the Trump Era
Clint Smith, How the Word Is Passed
Lindy West, The Witches Are Coming
Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents
The most important book I read this year was probably Perversion of Justice, by the reporter who dragged Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes back out of the shadows. The sheer amount of brazen corruption is mind-blowing, with Epstein operating out in the open and hanging out with politicians, academics, and financiers. It’s pretty grim reading about he way he used adolescent girls to recruit and help groom other girls to be sexually abused. Brown is unconvinced that Epstein’s death was suicide, and the list of potential suspects is endless.
I’ve been reading some of the books that the “anti-CRT” weirdos have been trying to ban. (The 1619 Project is on the stack for next year.) Stony the Road examines how propaganda, biased legal and economic systems, and vigilante terror destroyed the progress made in Reconstruction — and the parallels to today are worrisome. Caste looks at the similarities between India’s caste system, US racism, and at the extreme end, the Third Reich. How the Word is Passed describes the author’s visits to various historical sites connected with slavery, and notes how this history is addressed (or often, whitewashed). Dying of Whiteness studies how white identity politics causes people to embrace policies that are literally killing them, including out-of-control gun culture and rejecting “Obamacare.” (The book was published in early 2020, before the pandemic would demonstrate Metzl’s thesis all too well). Culture Warlords details the author going “undercover” online to spy on white supremacists and misogynists. And The Radical King showcases MLK’s less-quoted writings and speeches, the ones that would probably be banned under “anti-CRT” bills right now.
Moving to feminist topics, I found Kate Manne’s Entitled more accessible and less theoretical than her Down Girl. The unspoken rules of our culture often assume that men are entitled to certain things from women: her time if he wants to talk to her, her domestic labor if they live together (even when both are employed), her deference if he wants to interrupt or talk over her, and sex if she hasn’t done “enough” to get out of it. Manne offers many examples of the social costs for women who don’t comply. The Witches Are Coming has insightful (and often funny) essays on topics from #MeToo to fatphobia to Hillary Clinton. The Hunting of Hillary doesn’t really have any new information, but traces the hostile media coverage from the days when she was First Lady of Arkansas. Fury has many interesting essays on life under Trump, dealing with disability, sexual harassment, immigration, etc. But the authors also inexplicably included an essay by a woman who discovered her new boyfriend was a Trump voter (but he’s totally Not Like those other Trump voters, she swears), and now they’re married — did this really need to be the second essay in the book?
Bad Blood and Whistle Blower both deal with the ugly underside of Silicon Valley. Both Theranos and Uber turn out to be even more evil than you’d expect.
Sarah M. Broom, The Yellow House
Joanna Connors, I Will Find You
Tara Westover, Educated
I like memoirs that are about both the author’s experiences and something larger. Educated is the fascinating story of a woman raised with no schooling by her doomsday-prepper parents — and she went on to college and eventually Harvard. The Yellow House is about life in New Orleans before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina, and the way it’s still shaping her life and family. Absolutely fantastic book. I Will Find You is a grim, no-holds-barred story by a reporter who was raped by a stranger. After his death in prison, she investigated his history, trying to understand how he became the person who could commit that act.
Jean Anouilh, Antigone
Emily Mann, Annulla: An Autobiography
Emily Mann, Execution of Justice
Emily Mann, Still Life
Luigi Pirandello, Each in His Own Way
Luigi Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of an Author
Emily Mann’s plays are about violence: the Third Reich, the Vietnam War and its aftereffects, the murder of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. Execution of Justice and Still Life both use a collage format, an interweaving of voices similar to The Laramie Project.
Pirandello’s comedies feature absurdity and breaking the fourth wall; Each in His Own Way includes scenes that take place “in the audience.”
Anouilh’s Antigone, written during WW2, is the most cynical take I’ve seen on that story.
Kim Addonizio, Now We’re Getting Somewhere
Maya Angelou, Celebrations
Billy Collins, Ed., Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry
Farida D., The List of Shit That Made Me a Feminist
Annie Finch, Ed., An Exaltation of Goddesses
Michael Lassell & Elena Giorgiou, Eds., The World in Us: Lesbian & Gay Poetry of the Next Wave
Amanda Lovelace, Break Your Glass Slippers
Amanda Lovelace, Flowers, Crowns & Fearsome Things
My two requirements for poetry: that it be comprehensible, and actually about something. Kim Addonizio is one of my favorite contemporary poets, with vivid takes on love, lust, and mortality. Amanda Lovelace writes about difficult and sometimes toxic relationships with parents and lovers. Each individual poem seems simple, but they weave together into a complex narrative.
The List of Shit that Made Me a Feminist is a series of short, blunt takes on issues from economics to body image to parenting, through the eyes of an Arab woman who didn’t dare use her real name or even identify her nationality.
The World in Us has an interesting variety of LGBT+ voices, but feels a little dated (published in 2000 — kind of amazing how much has changed since then). I normally love Maya Angelou, but Celebrations contains only a handful of poems, each written for a “special occasion” (including, of course, the amazing “On the Pulse of Morning” from the first Obama inauguration).
Samantha Ellis, How to Be a Heroine
Carl Hiaasen, Kick Ass
Zora Neale Hurston, Tell My Horse
Laurie Lamson, ed., Now Write!
Tell My Horse is about Hurston’s travels in the Caribbean, and her encounters with voodoo.
Kick Ass is a collection of Hiaasen’s newspaper columns. A bit dated (80’s and 90’s), but Florida’s political scandals are never not funny. The section on out-of-control gun culture is hard to read; the author could not have imagined that, years later, a gun nut would burst into a newsroom and murder Hiaasen’s brother.
Now Write! is a collection of essays on writing, and writing exercises, from SF/fantasy/horror authors. How to Be a Heroine is about the various heroines that the author grew up reading about, and what they have to say to her now: Anne of Green Gables, Jane Eyre, Catherine in Wuthering Heights, and the incomparable Elizabeth Bennett, as well as modern books like Lace and Valley of the Dolls. But really: Gone with the Wind?
Cross-posted at Daily Kos
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