Last week I wrote about my fiction reads for 2022. Here’s the rest: politics, memoirs, a whole lotta poetry, and miscellaneous. As before, the ones for the Popsugar Reading Challenge have links to short reviews on my website.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present
Mona Chollet, In Defense of Witches: The Legacy of the Witch Hunts and Why Women Are Still on Trial
Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ed., The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story
Mike Isaac, Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber
Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist
Laurie Penny, Sexual Revolution: Modern Fascism and the Feminist Fightback
Joan Smith, Home Grown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men into Terrorists
Deborah Tuerkheimer, Credible: Why We Doubt Accusers and Protect Abusers
In starting to write this, I was struck by how many of the political books I read were about intersections of oppressions, or connections between past and present. The 1619 Project is as amazing as you’ve heard: essays by historians tracing the connections between slavery and the present, from the Electoral College to the freeway system.
Home Grown is also about making connections: how terrorist groups use misogyny as a recruiting tool, how mass killers first “practice” violence on their own families, and see that the community tolerates it. Smith’s examples are mostly from Britain, which doesn’t have the USA’s bizarre gun culture. Sexual Revolution makes the sort of connection that’s easy to miss yet obvious in retrospect: coercive “consent” is used individually in sexual exploitation, and collectively in capitalism.
Strongman pulls examples such as Hitler, Pinochet, Ghadaffi, and Putin, and shows the playbook that brings strongmen to power: scapegoating minorities, fetishizing toxic masculinity, and promising “law and order” while stealing everything that isn’t nailed down. She also examines what brought them down, in some cases — and occasionally what brought them back after defeat.
Super Pumped traces Uber’s rise and fall, from startup to phenom to cautionary tale. Whatever you’ve heard about Silicon Valley corporate evil — these guys are worse.
Henry Bibb, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb
William Wells Brown, Narrative of the Life of William Wells Brown
William Craft and Ellen Craft, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom
Donna Freitas, Consent: A Memoir of Unwanted Attention
J. D. Green, Narrative of the Life of J. D. Green, an Escaped Slave
Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals
Rebecca Solnit, Recollections of My Nonexistence
Sojourner Truth, Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave
Several of these were from William Andrews and Henry Louis Gates’s collection Slave Narratives, which also includes better-known memoirs such as Incidents in the Life of a Slave-Girl by Harriet Jacobs, and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Henry Bibb’s story was particularly heartbreaking: he escaped while in his 20’s, then made several attempts to go back & free his wife, all of which were thwarted — including once by a a fellow slave for $5. The Crafts’ story had some unexpectedly funny moments: light-skinned Ellen posed as William’s enslaver on their journey north, but it would have drawn attention for a white woman to travel alone with an enslaved man, so she disguised herself as a man, and William laughingly refers to her as “my master” in the narration.
In The Cancer Journals, Audre Lorde reflects on her struggle with breast cancer, and on the community of women who helped her through. She also writes about the amount of pressure she got to either have reconstructive surgery or get a prosthesis, as if “looking normal” was the important thing in her recovery. It was bittersweet reading this with the knowledge that the cancer finally took her.
Rebecca Solnit is best known for her essay Men Explain Things to Me. Her memoir talks about her career in art, literature, and activism. It also dives into the way women’s voices and experiences get erased. She talks about adult family friends hitting on her in her teens, strangers asking her apartment manager which apartments was hers, and a really disturbing experience of a man following her when she walked home one night. Technically “nothing happened” — she wasn’t assaulted or raped — but she addresses the toll it takes on women when constantly feeling like prey is normalized. Similarly, “nothing happened” in Danna Freitas’s Consent; her professor gradually insinuated himself into her life, constantly calling, sending gifts, even befriending her family. Any one of the interactions was easy to dismiss, but taken together it was a constant barrage of stalking — by a Catholic priest.
Jean Anouilh, Eurydice
James Goldman, The Lion in Winter
Emily Mann, Greensboro
Emily Mann’s plays are about violence, usually addressed in a collage format (similar to The Laramie Project). Greensboro deals with an infamous attack where the KKK killed five anti-Klan protesters, and while some of them were arrested, all were eventually acquitted. It’s grim.
The Lion in Winter is about the ultimate dysfunctional family: the British royals (12th century edition). Henry II keeps his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine imprisoned, their 3 sons (Richard Lion-Heart, Gregory & John) are vying for the throne, Henry is sleeping with Richard’s fiancee, and the constantly-changing alliances and betrayals proceed at a dizzying pace.
Kim Addonizio, Lucifer at the Starlite
Kim Addonizio, What Is This Thing Called Love
Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding Convy, Eds., Fire on Her Tongue: An Anthology of Contemporary Women’s Poetry
Jericho Brown, The New Testament
Cynthia Cruz, Ed., Other Musics: New Latina Poetry
Timothy Donnelly et al, Eds., Poems for Political Disaster
Mark Eisner & Tina Escaja, Resistancia: Poems of Protest & Revolution
Annie Finch, The Goddess Poems
Annie Finch & Alexandra Oliver, Eds. Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters
Federico Garcia Lorca, Selected Poems: A Bilingual Edition (Christopher, Maurer, Ed.)
Nikita Gill, The Girl and the Goddess
Amanda Gorman, Call Us What We Carry
Marilyn Hacker, Squares and Courtyards
Marilyn Hacker, A Stranger’s Mirror: New and Selected Poems, 1994-2014
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Iep Jaltok: Poems of a Marshallese Daughter
Rose Lemberg, Ed., The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry
Amanda Lovelace, Shine Your Icy Crown
Cynthia MacDonald, (W)holes
Czeslaw Milosz, Ed., A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry
Gabriela Marie Milton, Ed., Wounds I Healed: The Poetry of Strong Women
Daniel T. O’Brien, Ed., Poems of Resistance, Poems of Hope
Pat Parker, Jonestown and Other Madness
Marge Piercy, On the Way Out, Turn Off the Light
Zoe Spoor, Efflorescence: A Feminist Poetry Collection
My two rules for poetry: I like it to be (1) understandable, and (2) actually about something. Unfortunately, I’m at the age where the poets I loved in my youth are now writing about aging and mortality. Marge Piercy and Marilyn Hacker still write brilliantly; Hacker is one of the reasons I love sonnets, villainelles, and other formal poetry. Speaking of which, Finch & Oliver’s Measure for Measure is a delightful sampler of poems in different meters, demonstrating why some forms are good for dirges and others for light verse. (You wouldn’t want to write a dirge in limerick form — it just sounds wrong.)
I like political poetry when it’s well done. Pat Parker’s 1985 volume Jonestown and Other Madness only has a handful of poems, but every one of them hits hard. Rose Lemberg’s anthology The Moment of Change combines feminist poetry with elements of science fiction, fantasy and fairy tales, and it works beautifully. Eisner & Escaja’s Resistancia has political poetry from Latin America and the Caribbean, each presented in both English and the original language (Spanish, Portuguese, French, and a couple of Indigenous languages). Donnelly’s Poems for Political Disaster and O’Brien’s Poems of Resistance, Poems of Hope were both published during TFG’s administration. The former came out shortly after the election, and is pretty depressing; the latter is more hopeful.
There were some where I agreed with the sentiment, but found the poems...not bad, exactly, but not particularly memorable. Those included Gabriela Marie Milton’s Wounds I Healed and Zoe Spoor’s Efflorescence.
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner was new to me, and her Iep Jaltok: Poems of a Marshallese Daughter covers a range of styles and topics, including local mythology, coming to the Marshall Islands after growing up in Hawai’i, the islands’ history of being used for nuclear tests, and the very visible, visceral effects of climate change. All in a vivid, powerful voice.
Although I first encountered Amanda Gorman reading her inaugural poem out loud, a lot of her poetry is visual. She uses erasure and shaped poems in a way that literally has to be seen to be appreciated.
Nikita Gill’s The Girl and the Goddess is a novel in verse, about a young woman from India finding herself, moving to London, dealing with misogynist violence and racism, and coming out as bisexual, interspersed with encounters with Hindu Goddesses who show her the parallels between her story and theirs.
This section’s getting kinda long, but if I get to pick two favorites: Jericho Brown and Kim Addonizio. Brown often uses a form he calls the “duplex,” where lines are repeated in slightly altered form, taking on new meaning. (Example). He captures the strange intersection of being a Black gay man in an era where Obama was president but any random Black man could get shot by police at any time. Addonizio writes about love and loss in a way that’s intense without being sentimental. The essence of poetry is writing something that’s very specific yet connects in a way that feels universal — like her incomparable To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall.
Kevin Boyle, Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age
Charlotte Drummond, Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen
Ronan Farrow, War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence
Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa
Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
Ann Tusa and John Tusa, The Nuremberg Trial
James Walvin, The Zong: A Massacre, the Law, and the End of Slavery
Some of the books I read this year were about grim slices of history. The Zong massacre was one of the most horrifying episodes in the history of slavery, and I’d never heard of it until a couple of years ago. Similarly, King Leopold’s Ghost tells about the evils committed by Belgian colonialism in the Congo for the sake of greed.
Arc of Justice is about Ossian Sweet, a Black doctor who bought a house in a white neighborhood in 1925. When the neighbors mobbed the house, Dr. Sweet and his family and friends shot back, killing one of the attackers. All 11 people in Dr. Sweet’s house were put on trial, defended by Clarence Darrow. Even after an eventual legal victory, the attack and trial had long-ranging consequences.
Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World was recommended by someone here on Daily Kos, who used it as a way to get through to people who rejected science. Sagan warned of the consequences of having a scientifically illiterate population, and it’s all the more relevant today.