Books I’d Like to Read in 2021

A short fiction where I pretend to you, dear reader, that I am still capable of reading more than a book a week.

  1. Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha by Daniel M. Ingram
  2. Fool on the Hill by Mark Sargent
  3. The Omnibus Homo Sacer by Giorgio Agamben
  4. Cargill Falls by William Lychack [x]
  5. Black Imagination by Natasha Marin (Editor)
  6. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
  7. Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women are Worth by Marilyn Waring
  8. Deep Adaptation by Jem Bendell [x]
  9. The Carrying: Poems by Ada Limon [x]
  10. Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen
  11. Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures by Mary Ruefle [x]
  12. How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community by Mia Birdsong
  13. Hexaflexagons and Other Mathematical Diversions by Martin Gardner
  14. Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology by Gregory Bateson
  15. Are Women Human?: And Other International Dialogues by Catharine A. MacKinnon
  16. War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires by Peter Turchin
  17. Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind by Alan Jacobs
  18. Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy
  19. Take the Long Way Home: Memoirs of a Survivor by Susan Gordon Lydon
  20. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum
  21. Ball Four by Jim Bouton
  22. The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men by Robert Jensen [x]
  23. The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa
  24. Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider in an Insider World by Olga Khazan
  25. The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics by Christopher Lasch
  26. Modernist Cuisine at Home by Nathan Myhrvold
  27. On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee
  28. Another Birth by Forough Farrokhzad
  29. Darkness Spoken by Ingeborg Bachmann
  30. So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ
  31. Oblivion Seekers by Isabelle Eberhardt
  32. The Neopolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
  33. Machines in the Head by Anna Kavan
  34. The Selected Poems of Rosario Castellanos by Rosario Castellanos
  35. Mad in Pursuit by Violette Leduc
  36. The Wedding by Dorothy West
  37. The Hebrew Bible by Robert Alter
  38. The Red Book: Liber Novus by C.G. Jung
  39. New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver
  40. Heart of the Original by Steve Aylett
  41. On the Brink of Paradox by Augustin Rayo
  42. The Commonwealth series by Peter F. Hamilton
  43. Notes on the Synthesis of Form by Christopher W. Alexander
  44. Sandworm by Andy Greenberg
  45. Women, Race & Class by Angela Y. Davis
  46. A Passion For Friends by Janice G. Raymond
  47. The Precipice by Toby Orb
  48. Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump
  49. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
  50. Primeval & Other Times by Olga Tokarczuk
  51. Consuming the Romantic Utopia by Eva Illouz
  52. Tools for Conviviality by Ivan Illich

A Comment on The Expendables (2010)

Here’s the Storyline from IMDB:

“Barney Ross leads the “Expendables”, a band of highly skilled mercenaries including knife enthusiast Lee Christmas, martial arts expert Yin Yang, heavy weapons specialist Hale Caesar, demolitionist Toll Road and loose-cannon sniper Gunner Jensen. When the group is commissioned by the mysterious Mr. Church to assassinate the merciless dictator of a small South American island, Barney and Lee head to the remote locale to scout out their opposition. Once there, they meet with local rebel Sandra and discover the true nature of the conflict engulfing the city. When they escape the island and Sandra stays behind, Ross must choose to either walk away and save his own life – or attempt a suicidal rescue mission that might just save his soul.

The Expendables is a moderately entertaining action movie, a “popcorn film”. But, the thing I noticed about this film is that this team is hired, they recon the mission, and decide to pass on it. But, Barney Ross (Stallone) goes back out of some strange sense of guilt over leaving the local guide to die, which she chose to do. The movie then proceeds with lots of conversation about how these mercenaries can save their souls, redeem the moral damage that comes from killing untold numbers of people with a single act of kindness, especially by saving a woman in distress.

There are a number of things bug me in this redemption narrative. First, and foremost, is that one cannot redeem one’s bad behavior with a single act of goodness. It’s like saying Lucifer could become Jesus, atone for his failures and the world’s through dying on the cross. It’s a terrible morality. The Bible asks for an unblemished sacrifice for a reason.

Second, the gendered element is suggesting that saving a woman somehow justifies the brutality and indiscriminate killing of the lifestyle these men are living. It’s an example of why patriarchy is so harmful to all genders. It justifies its oppression by glorifying violent behavior in men as a good, while at the same time turns women into objects for use in salving their moral wounds from that very behavior.

Then, there’s also the matter than Sandra (Itié) chooses to die rather than escape. While it is understandable to want to save her, there’s little in this film that respects her agency and choice.

And the really puzzling thing about this movie is after they have lived through a suicide mission, saved the heroine and redeemed himself, Ross leaves. Mission accomplished. He gives her money and just walks away because she wasn’t “his type”. More accurately, he has to walk away because dealing with Sandra as if she were a real human being would throw into relief the bankrupt ideas at the heart of this movie..

Who would Ross become if he decided to make this relationship work? That might be a real redemption. However, it’s something that would happen on a time scale that wouldn’t make for an entertaining movie. ‘Tis a pity that it is so easy to show evil and so difficult to show what is good about the human experience that you can only come to know of it over time and through lived experience.

Art as Tool for Emancipation

“Although the age of community-based photography collectives and adequate funding for the arts is over, their principles are more salient than ever. As our lives become increasingly saturated with manipulative visual culture, questioning the social context of a constant stream of images could not be greater. By asking who images are currently produced for and for whom should they be produced, this forgotten history teaches us the power of inclusion, the importance of documenting community struggle and reinforces a belief in the camera as a universal tool for emancipation.”

-Clarlie Bird, “Flashing In Hackney: The Forgotten History Of London’s Radical Photography Collectives.” The Quietus. October 24, 2020.

Never really thought of photography as a tool for emancipation. Also, interesting to read about the Hackney Flashers as a precursor that led to the Guerrilla Girls, whom I had heard of before. Doing a quick Internet search, I came across this quote in a New York Times piece:

“‘Some of us wanted a piece of the pie, and some of us wanted to blow the whole pie up,’ Kahlo said. ‘We agreed to disagree.'”

Melena Ryzik, “The Guerrilla Girls, After 3 Decades, Still Rattling Art World Cages.” The New York Times. August 5, 2015.

The fuller article and the focus on counting as a means of highlighting inequality is worth thinking on.

20th Century Women

20th Century Women is such a lovely little movie. Part coming of age story. Part a story about aging. Part a story about male/female relationships that explores how difficult these are to navigate, particularly given our collective idiosyncrasies and brokenness. Recommended.

A Sport of Their Own

“‘Wrestling gives you what you need to be successful,’ Kretzer explained. ‘It gives you dedication, commitment. It gives you somewhere where you belong. You can be your own self and be a total badass…

‘Wrestling allows you to find yourself. With your wins and losses, you get to reflect and try to develop yourself into something better. It’s not something you practice a few hours; it’s a 24/7, full commitment. The struggles in wrestling help you with the struggles outside of wrestling.'”

—Liz Clarke, “A Sport of Their Own.” The Washington Post. November 8, 2019.

I fully support wrestling as a sport for girls. Wrestling changed my life, and everyone should have that opportunity.

Ask Molly: Manic Pixie Mean Girl

“Enough of stating the fucking obvious, though. Let’s talk about how we’re going to survive the next year of bloviating sexist fuckwaddery. Let’s talk about what it means not just to survive, not just to escape predation and tolerate douche bro-viating and tune out all of the ignorant dipshit-itude, but to savor life and embrace joy as a woman or a girl or a enlightened human of any gender in this ludicrously insipid, unseeing, witless world.”

-Heather Havrilesky, “Manic Pixie Mean Girl.” Ask Molly. November 8, 2019.

I love Ask Molly. Everything about it.

For Fathers of Daughters [and Anyone Concerned with Gender Equality]

“When I was pregnant with my third son a young colleague asked me whether I wanted a boy or girl. I responded that I thought that the role model pressure of having a daughter would be hard, so I would be more comfortable with a son. She wagged her finger at me and said, ‘You have it all wrong. The most important thing you can do for women like me is to raise fair men who are equally competent at household activities as they are at working collaboratively with women in the office. That’s the role model you should worry about–your being a strong woman who expects her sons to treat women as equals.'”

-Jules Pieri, “For Fathers of Daughters.” jules.thegrommet.com. October 10, 2019.

Advice for all men, not just fathers.