My monthly reading average jumped in June, including two by activist and abolitionist Angela Y. Davis, both of which I covered in my anti-racist reading series. I started my MFA at Antioch University, where the residency was on Zoom for ten consecutive days. Instead of slowing me down, I was happy to sit with a book in place of a screen at the end of each day, and I was especially happy to read the books discussed below.
“Half of my whole life is gone,” Perfume Genius sings at the outset of his fifth album, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately. 2020 sometimes feels a bit like that, but I hope you’re safe, well, staying home when possible, learning antiracism, and putting it into daily reflection and practice.
I wait until the end of each year to share reflections on the music that sees me through, but I felt especially compelled to make a playlist at the halfway mark this time around. So, here it is: one song from each of the 25 projects I’ve loved so far. I hope you find something to see you through as well.
Since my last post on recommended books on racism, more Black Americans have been killed by and within racist institutions: Rayshard Brooks, Riah Milton, Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells, and Robert Fuller, among others, should be alive today. I am a firm believer that white people should educate ourselves and reach out to educate other white Americans, and in that spirit I have been sharing what I have learned from books authored by Black writers. I encourage you to purchase the books from Black-owned bookstores and to not simply stop at reading the books, but to allow the books to compel you to action within your spheres of influence.
This week, I am recommending books on abolition. To be clear, I have not read books that specifically address defunding the police, but once the phrase came across my social media feed, I began to think back on what I’ve read about abolition, as well as sought out a few titles from my to-read shelf in order to think through this current moment.
I am seeking to educate myself on what it would take to attain an “abolition democracy,” the term W.E.B. Du Bois coined during America’s Reconstruction Era to argue that slavery would not truly be eradicated in the U.S. until institutions were put in place to genuinely incorporate Black Americans into the nation’s conception of democracy. I credit Angela Y. Davis with articulating this notion, and several of her books are described below. State, local, and federal funding must be invested in community solutions that address racism and other social ills (homophobia, transphobia, sexism, classism, and so on), and our current system of overfunding systems designed for punishment must change. I have arrived at this belief because of the books and resources listed below.
As the nation reels from the most recent deaths brought on by white supremacist ideology in practice, many people are finding ways to use their time and resources to advocate for justice. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless other Black Americans should be alive today.
Throughout my life and on this blog in recent years, I have shared the books that have made an impact on me. If you have been on social media this week, you have probably received countless book recommendations to begin or continue your reading on racism and its various manifestations. In the spirit of sharing my resources, I want to provide a recommendation list for deciding which book might be best for you to start with or read next. This week, my recommendations focus on understanding racism in the context of religious settings and particular theological approaches.
In my latest for the The Athenaeum Review, I looked at two titles in Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series, short books on single albums. I had some fun collapsing the intellectual distance between Nine Inch Nails and Arcade Fire in writing about their albums, Pretty Hate Machine and The Suburbs, respectively. Daphne Carr’s book on Pretty Hate Machine lands in my top three of the series, alongside Marvin Lin’s book on Kid A and Kirk Walker Graves’ book on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
You can read the review here.
Whoever said we would have more time to read now did not anticipate how hard it would be to focus. Although sure to change in the summer, sticking to five books in April was only challenging in that I struggled to finish five, opting for some poetry at the end of the month to ease my mind. If you missed my previous 2020 reads, you can find them all here: January, February, and March.
I hope you are still ordering from your local bookstore, and I hope you find something here worth reading, as I did through and through. Although I often prefer essays, I read quite a bit of fiction in April, as stories with at least some semblance of unreality were easier to delve into than the so-called real world in this moment.
My essay, “No True West,” about the Man with No Name trilogy, has been published in Bridge Eight‘s Film and TV Conversations on their website. You can read it here.
Since limiting my reading time in January, I thought more time at home in March might challenge that boundary, but I stuck with my commitment and only read five books this month. If you missed January and February, they’re still waiting for you.
Bookstores could really use your support during the current closure, and indie bookstores especially. I personally love Deep Vellum Books in Dallas and Commonplace Books in Fort Worth, but I’m also partial because I have friends and roots in both places. Wherever you are, try to find your local bookstore and order from them.
Almost as soon as we caught wind that we would be staying in our homes for the foreseeable future, we started wondering what masterpieces might become possible. The story quickly spread around the Internet that, while quarantined, Shakespeare wrote King Lear. Newton was working out the early seeds of calculus, which, thanks, I guess? The point being, people saw a dire situation and started looking on the brightside, encouraging one another to take advantage of time at home as the potential ground where our own brilliance might manifest itself.