Friday, December 21, 2012

My year's best

It looks like I'll finish out this year with 72 books read. I'm in the middle of one I'll finish in another day or two, then next week I head to Texas to spend the holiday break with my wife and in-laws which means probably my only reading time for the final week of the year will be on airplanes, so that's that, 72. I've had the impression of a vaguely unsatisfying reading year, but I wonder why, for when I review the books I read in 2012 I see clearly that that impression is mistaken. Curious. It's been a very good reading year indeed. Here's why: the best books I read this year.


The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
The Cutting Season by Attica Locke
Home by Toni Morrison
The Infinities by John Banville
The Invisible Mountain by Carolina De Robertis
Once Upon a Time in England by Helen Walsh
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Yes I know--I got caught up in those damn Cromwell books by Hilary Mantel! Embarrassing, but what can I say? They're delicious, just superb juicy sublimely well written. Actually I may have more to say about them, here or elsewhere, by and by. I did blog here earlier in the year about the wonderful books by Otsuka, Tobar and De Robertis. I didn't about Brooks' novel of the plague in England; or about the new ones by Banville and Erdrich, both very fine and long since established writers; or the second book by Locke, who follows up her great debut of a couple years ago and who is a writer I will now follow anywhere; or by the master Morrison who once again works magic, this time in a quite short but oh so powerful book. Sorry I didn't, hope to do more diligent reporting on my reading in the coming year.

Meanwhile, I see a good number of also-rans in my list of 2012 reads, so, why the hell not, herewith the Honorable Mentions, books that I enjoyed a lot even if they didn't quite make me swoon:

Arcadia by Lauren Groff
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall
The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
Love and Fatigue in America by Roger King
Middle Age: A Romance by Joyce Carol Oates
The Missing by Tim Gautreaux
Monstress by Lysley Tenorio
Open City by Teju Cole
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips
Work Song by Ivan Doig

Monday, December 17, 2012

Read it & weep. No, rage. No: act!

I just finished reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. 

I've known about this book for some time, of course, as it has had a major impact around the country, an ever-growing impact since its first publication two years ago. A couple months ago I attended a huge meeting on mass incarceration and the racist prison-industrial complex that took place at Riverside Church in Manhattan, where Ms. Alexander spoke, along with Angela Davis, Cornel West and others including Mumia Abu-Jamal live by telephone hookup from prison. It was an electrifying event, thousands-strong, most of them young people, such an encouraging sign about the potential for building this movement. The talks were superb, especially Michelle Alexander's. The work to which she is devoting her considerable energies is an inspiring, courageous call to action for all the rest of us, all who fight against racism and for justice.

This is one of the most important books, as well as one of the best, that I've read in a long time. You read this book and you want to buy 100 copies and force them into the hands of everyone you know and tell them to stop everything and read it. Even activists in the struggles for social justice including prisoner-solidarity work, even those who already agree with the political argument of this book and are aware of the basics of the situation elucidated in this book -- that is, that there is a war against the Black community being carried out in the name of a "war on drugs"--will learn much from The New Jim Crow. Alexander harnesses a wealth of information--facts, figures, studies, legal cases--and puts it together to present a cogent, stirring, impassioned argument that is ultimately a call to action.

This is not an easy book to read. The truths told here are bitter and hard. The human suffering wrought by the criminal "justice" system and its racist "war on drugs" is horrific. But you don't read this book for ease; you read it to inform and arm yourself so that you can step up and become a better fighter. This is a necessary book. Read it, and join the movement against mass incarceration.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

First, this, though not about lit

It's a hard day to concentrate on anything but the bitter news out of Michigan, which as of today is a "right-to-work" state. Seventy-five years after the great Flint sit-down strike, 75 years after the bloody Battle of the Overpass, it's almost impossible to believe that this could happen in one of the great centers of labor struggles in this country. I'm originally from Detroit, once a union bastion, now the prime evidence that capitalism must go, Detroit, the city destroyed by capitalism, and I'm very angry this morning.

As is everyone on our side of the class struggle. It is of course impossible to know what will be the decisive blow, the attack against the workers and oppressed that turns out to be one attack too many, the turning point at which our class rises up and begins to battle back in a massive, united way, but it seems to me that that point must be close. How much more can we take? How much worse can it get? If they can do this in Michigan--if the bosses believe they can get away with this in the heartland of organized labor--they will no doubt be emboldened to push forward to ever worse atrocities. And oh, they will regret it. Soon, I hope, very soon, they will be made to regret it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Hiatus ends

Read Red has been inactive for about six months. Won't bore you with why, but I'm here to say I'm getting ready to revive this blog.

I'll be back soon with some new posts, including a list of my best reads of 2012. Looking forward to getting back to the business of red lit commentary, hope you'll come back to checking out what I have to say.