Summer Reading List, 2012

It’s time once again for the annual Summer Reading List. This is my tenth year of compiling reading recommendations from fellow scholars, musicians, artists, and other bookish friends. This year that includes regulars like Howard Rheingold, Douglas Rushkoff, Dave Allen, Paul Saffo, Zizi PapacharissiSteven Shaviro, Ashley Crawford, McKenzie Wark, Alex Burns, Peter Lunenfeld, Brian Tunney, and myself, as well as newcomers Nick Harkaway, Lance Strate, Mark Amerika, Tricia Wang, Dominic Pettman, Jussi Parikka, Eduardo Navas, David Preston, and Barry Brummett. There’s a wide-ranging, far-reaching pile of books below to be sure. My own list has doubled since I read through all of these.

Lily reads to Howard the donkey. (Photo by Cynthia Bayer)

In spite of their inevitable variety, a few books end up on more than one list every year and emerge as the salient texts of the zeitgeist, or at least our little slice of it. This year I am proud to announce that those books are by friends, mentors, and contributors to previous and current Summer Reading Lists. They are Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (MIT Press, 2012), Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), and Mark Dery‘s I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-by Essays on American Dread, American Dreams (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), as well as James Gleick‘s The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood (Pantheon) from last year.

I’m stoked on publishers I love and who have been very supportive being in the list multiple times. Among them are Red Lemonade, HiLo Books, Zer0 Books, The MIT Press, and The University of Minnesota Press. Many thanks to everyone who provides us reading material and everyone who contributed to the list — this time and for the past ten years. I’m just a guy who loves to read and the support is mad appreciated.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that as the shift to e-books gains further adoption, there are insights from both sides of the new digital divide in the following list. As always, the book links on this page will lead you to Powell’s Books, the best bookstore on the planet. Read on for various thoughts on many current and classic reads.

Howard Rheingold

George Dyson Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe (Pantheon, 2012): It is a little slow and overly detailed at the beginning but becomes extremely rich when it gets to Johnny von Neumann, a man who is as little known as he was important, and the end is a truly grand and perhaps frightening broad vision of the state and future of digital life.

Nick Harkaway

I’ll be kicking off with Evening in the Palace of Reason (Harper Perennial, 2006), James Gaines’ extraordinary history of J S Bach’s encounters with Frederick the Great and what they mean. It’s the clash between two radically different perceptions of the world. The book is an amazing lens through which to understand a fragment of history and various threads which run through to the present day. Plus it’s crackingly dramatic.

Then there’s Ned Beauman’s Boxer Beetle: A Novel (Bloomsbury, 2011), which everyone raved about a while ago but I never got to. I’ve just been sent his new book, The Teleportation Accident, which is superb. Boxer Beetle sounds like something Borges might have written if he’d been a drunken Irish libertine. It is apparently a crazed romp featuring riots, sex, murder, Darwinism, and invented languages. Now you know as much as I do.

William Gibson‘s Distrust That Particular Flavor (Putnam Adult, 2011) has been burning a hole in my pocket for a month. I’ve dipped into it, and I already know it’s fascinating, but I haven’t really had time to sit down with it and get to know it. The early sections tell me that we have different ways of working and thinking about writing, but that somehow the differences are complementary rather than oppositional, and I just feel he broadens my mind.

I have an advanced reading copy of Tom Pollock’s The City’s Son (Flux, 2012). Tom has turned out something which may end up as the next His Dark Materials. It’s not always easy reading work by people you like, but having read the first couple of chapters I’m feeling pretty confident that he won’t let me down.

I have Murakami’s 1Q84 (Knopf, 2011) by my bed, and I’m dying to get to that, too, along with Carne Ross’s Leaderless Revolution: How Ordinary People Will Take Power and Change Politics in the 21st Century (Blue Rider Press, 2012) — but I may blink and fall back on P. G. Wodehouse’s irresistible golfing stories in The Clicking of Cuthbert (CreateSpace, 2011) — at least for a while. The title story, in particular, says more about writers and how we live than any other single text I know. And it’s great fun. Everyone talks about Jeeves, but for my money it’s Emsworth, golf, and Ickenham. Call me cussed…

Douglas Rushkoff

I don’t have a lot of reading time over the summer. Actually, less than I normally do. But I plan to read Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland, whatever draft of Cintra Wilson’s upcoming masterwork she’ll let me look at, Howard Rheingold’s new book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (MIT Press, 2012), and a radium-age sci- fi novel by Edward Shanks called The People of the Ruins that HiLo Books will be releasing this year, and that I hope to blurb. I’m also finally learning Python from a big O’Reilly book by Mark Lutz appropriately titled Learning Python that Mark Pesce bought me for my 50th birthday. Never too late to learn a new programming language!

Zizi Papacharissi

I am reading Political Affect: Connecting the Social and the Somatic (University of Minnesota Press, 2009) by John Protevi and The Affect Theory Reader (Duke University Press, 2010), by Melissa Gregg and Greg Seigory Seigworth (Eds.) among other books on affect. I am looking for new ways to explain how digital formations connect to the political — so hoping these will give me some new ideas.

Also hoping to have time to read:

The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry Is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth (Yale University Press, 2012) by Joseph Turow (Hardcover) and The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You (Penguin, 2011) By Eli Pariser, because they look interesting!

Finally, I am re-reading Mary Douglas’s Purity and Danger (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966) and Judy Wajcman’s Feminism Confronts Technology (Penn State Press, 1991) for inspiration.

Dominic Pettman

I have spent the last few months teaching in Paris, so my summer reading list has a Gallic flavor this year. Francoise Mallet-Joris’ The Illusionist (Cleis Press, 2006) does not get the attention that her near-namesake Francoise Sagan gets for her sexually precocious bon-bons of the same era, but it seems to be more evocative, gender-blurring, and intriguing. Irina Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise (Vintage, 2007) renders the Nazi occupation of France with an absolutely singular and unsentimental voice (and the letters from her husband, included in the appendix, desperately soliciting the authorities for information of her whereabouts and condition are among the most wrenching things I’ve ever read). Also, I’m told Elizabeth Bowen’s A House in Paris (Anchor, 2002) is an over-looked classic of English modernist literature, and stands as one of the most subtle melodramas ever written; so that’s definitely on the list. Then, as a palate-cleansing chaser, I will read part three of Henri de Montherlant’s amusingly astringent (and let’s face it, misogynist) series of books collected as The Girls (Picador, 1987).

In terms of creative critical theory, I will be reading Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s edited collection, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects (produced by the very promising POD publishers, Punctum, 2012). Otherwise, I always like to keep up with other authors in Minnesota’s Posthumanities series, and this summer they are releasing Vilem Flusser’s Lovecraftian book about a giant killer squid, Vampyroteuthis Infernalis: A Treatise, with a Report by the Institut Scientifique de Recherche Paranaturaliste (University of Minnesota Press, 2012). I also look forward to Mark Dery’s razor-wire wit and insights in his new collection, also from Minnesota, entitled I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts.

Finally, I hope to find the time to read John Crowley’s eccentrically fantastical tale Little, Big (William Morrow, 2006), since I’m intrigued by Harold Bloom’s blurb: “A neglected masterpiece. The closest achievement we have to the Alice stories of Lewis Carroll.” Seems like perfect upstate New York hammock reading . . . if I am lucky enough to find such a thing.

Mark Amerika

Every now and then I will read something because I need to read it. The book, journal or article will usually have some relation to my research which will then feed into my own writing and art projects. The vast majority of these sources come from writers who I have no personal connection to but who I am very grateful for having uncovered some data points that I can sample from and remix into my own creations.

But then there are other works that are made by artists, writers, theorists, and others whom I personally know, have met in the best of circumstances, or have simply met online while conducting my daily social media rituals.

It’s these latter works that I generally save for summer reading. This summer I have truly lucked out as there are quite a few titles that I eagerly anticipate digging into while simultaneously finishing my Museum of Glitch Aesthetics project. As you will soon see, even the titles of the books are enough to warrant a closer inspection of the writing therein:

Alex Forman Tall, Slim & Erect: Portraits of the Presidents (Les Figues, 2012)

Tan Lin Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking: [AIRPORT NOVEL MUSICAL POEM PAINTING FILM PHOTO HALLUCINATION LANDSCAPE] (Wesleyan Poetry Series, 2010)

Robert Arellano Curse the Names (Akashic Books, 2011)

Lidia Yuknavitch The Chronology of Water: A Memoir (Hawthorne Books, 2011)

Anakana Schofield Malarkey (Biblioasis, 2012)

Dave Allen

I have just finished two books. Novels that have enthralled me like no others in quite some time. Both debuts from two gifted writers – one Irish one French. City of Bohane by Kevin Barry (Greywolf Press, 2012) and HHhH from Laurent Binet (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012) are so startlingly original it seems unfair to compare them to other literary endeavors, yet in literature as in digital actually, the new new thing is rarely completely new.

Page 5, City of Bohane:

‘Did he have it coming, Jen?’
‘Don’t they always, Cusacks?’
Logan shaped his lips thinly in agreement.
‘The Cusacks have always been crooked, girl.’

Jenni was seventeen that year but wise beyond it. Careful she was, and a saucy little ticket in her lowriders and wedge heels, her streaked hair pineappled in a high bun. She took the butt of a stogie from the tit pocket of her white vinyl zip-up, and lit it.

‘Get enough on me plate now ‘cross the footbridge, Mr H.’
‘I know that.’
‘Cusacks gonna sulk up a welt o’ vengeance by ‘n’ by and if yer asking me, like? A rake o’ them tossers bullin’ down off the Rises is the las’ thing Smoketown need.’
‘Cusacks are always great for the old talk, Jenni.’
‘More ‘n talks what I gots a fear on, H. Is said they gots three flatblocks marked Cusacks ‘bove on the Rises this las’ while an’ that’s three flatblocks fulla headjobs with a grá on ‘em for rowin’, y’check me?’
‘All too well Jenni.’

That conversation takes place 50 years in the future in a city in the Southwest of Ireland. Things have not improved economically. Being Irish, Barry clearly has an ear for the cadence and lilt of Ireland’s working class phrasing and further deconstructs it as if everything now, here in the future is only spoken, where words are no longer pressed to paper. The palpable violence that ghost-shades the entire book reminds me of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (1962).

Page 1, A Clockwork Orange:

‘What’s it going to be then, eh?’
There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry. The Korova Milkbar was a milk-plus mesto, and you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like, things changing so skorry these days and everybody very quick to forget, newspapers not being read much neither.

And as I consider the language and grammar deconstructions of both those chapters, the upending of rules as if rules in literature ever mattered, I’m reminded of Russell Hoban’s classic post-apocalypse novel, Riddley Walker (Indiana University Press, 1998), a telling of history by the survivors that couldn’t be written – it was an oral history.

Hoban went beyond Burgess and Barry by taking the grammar deconstruction to its obvious place in a post-apocalyptic world, a place where there were no longer written words. Language then became free of grammatical constraint, where punctuation in oral history was not mandatory- it was personal. The speaker or narrator decided whether to pause or exclaim for effect, or not..

Page 1, Riddley Walker:

On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen. He dint make the groun shake nor nothing like that when he come on to my spear he wernt all that big plus he lookit poorly. He done the reqwyert he ternt and stood and clattert his teef and made his rush and ther we wer then. Him on 1 end of the spear kicking his life out and me on the other end watching him dy. I said, ‘Your tern now my tern later.’ The other spears gon in then and he wer dead and the steam coming up off him in the rain and we all yelt, ‘Offert!’

In all three of these books the central characters are “telling” not writing. The only narrative they’re left with is oral history.

In future the digital version of this will be known as Twitter.

In HHhH (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012), Laurent Betin goes back into history to the period in Nazi Germany just prior to World War 2. It is, ostensibly, a historical novel, one that follows the rise through the ranks of the SS and SA, of the cruel Nazi, Rienhard Heydrich, who became too well known as the sinister figure “the Butcher of Prague.”

Yet is it? Heydrich did exist and he did commit atrocities across Europe during the war, but Betin is not satisfied with the genre. He wrestles openly in the book with his fear of memory polluting his attempts, as Brett Easton Ellis puts it, at “neutral, journalistic honesty.” Or as Wells Tower says “HHhH is an astonishing book – absorbing, moving, for the agony and acuity with which its author engages the problem of making literary art from unbearable historical fact.”

Here’s an example. Betin is describing how fighters had slipped out of Czechoslovakia and into France where they joined with the French army to battle the Germans:

…a few months later it will be practically a whole division and it will fight alongside the French army during the war. I could write quite a lot about the Czechs in the French army: the 11,000 soldiers, made up of 3,000 volunteers and 8,000 expatriate Czech conscripts, along with the brave pilots, trained at Chartres, who will shoot down or help to shoot down more than 130 enemy planes during the Battle of France.. But I’ve said that I don’t want to write a historical handbook. This story is personal. That’s why my visions sometimes get mixed up with known facts. It’s just how it is.

Actually, no: that’s not how it is. That would be too simple. Rereading one of the books that make up the foundation of my research – a collection of witness accounts assembled by a Czech historian, Miraslav Ivanov, under the title The Attack on Heydrich – I become aware to my horror, of the mistakes I’ve made concerning Gabcik.

Remember this a novel about a true story. We know from history much of the story. Yet does the book by Miraslav Ivanov mentioned above even exist? Does/did Ivanov?

As David Lodge points out “Binet has given a new dimension to the nonfiction novel by weaving his writerly anxieties about the genre into the narrative, but his story is no less compelling for that…”

It is truly a work of art. And I believe that now I’ve read it, it deserves its place on my bookshelf as a future classic, where someone else can pick it up and consider its heft, both literally and figuratively.

Something that an e-reader cannot provide.

Recently I bought two books by Hans Keilson, of which Comedy in a Minor Key: A Novel  (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011) is the first that I have read. Keilson was born in Berlin in 1909 and during World War II he joined the Dutch resistance. It too is a short novel and is the story of a young Dutch couple who during the war take in and hide a Jew they know as Nico, then when he dies of pneumonia they must dispose of his body. It was written in 1947, so just after the war ended, and one gets the sense when reading it, that no it is semi-autobiographical.

As I note above that book was written in 1947 and recently I’ve been picking up books from the past rather than the present: Essays In Disguise (Knopf, 1990) by Wifrid Sheed (Read – amazing!), In the Next Galaxy  (Cooper Canyon Press, 2004) by Ruth Stone (Poetry) (Reading now), and X20: A Novel of (not) Smoking (Harper Perennial, 1999) by Richard Beard (Up next).

And two new books for the summer that just arrived: The Art of Fielding: A Novel (Back Bay Books, 2012) by Chad Harbach (We’ll see what all the fuss is about) and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown, 2012) by Susan Cain (I’m expecting great things).

Peter Lunenfeld

This summer I plan to stop being the only person I know who hasn’t read last summer’s big book, James Gleick, The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood (Pantheon, 2011). As alternate beach reading, I’ll pack (as I have an atavistic attachment to the physical object of the book) David Graeb’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Melville House, 2011) and Toward An Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). Geert Lovink described this to me as the first anarchist classic in a long time.

Continuing the heavy lifting, I’m looking forward to David F. Dufty’s How to Build an Android: The True Story of Philip K. Dick’s Robotic Resurrection, which may prompt me to tackle The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (eds. Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem), a pretty thick tome that has been sitting reproachfully on my shelf.

Also on my shelf are Matthew K. Gold’s Debates in the Digital Humanities (University of Minnesota Press, 2012) and Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy (NYU Press, 2011). I should read both of these before Digital_Humanities – a book I co-wrote with Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Todd Presner, and Jeffrey Schnapp – comes out this fall from MIT Press.

On the aesthetic side of things, I’m continuing with a long process of research into LA’s cultural history, so I’m reading Beth Gates Warren’s Artful Lives: Edward Weston, Margrethe Mather, and the Bohemians of Los Angeles (J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011) and Piecing Together Los Angeles: An Esther McCoy Reader (East of Borneo Books, 2012), edited and with an essay by Susan Morgan, a companion volume to a wonderful show Morgan organized at the Schindler House about the seminal architectural writer and feminist. Not about LA at all, but no less intriguing is Kodwo Eshun’s new volume for Afterall’s series of books on individual artworks. Eshun’s Dan Graham: Rock My Religion (MIT Press, 2012) should be a great mash-up.

To segue to fiction, I’ll be reading Thomas Malone’s Watergate: A Novel (Pantheon, 2012), because the ‘70s still fascinate, J.G. Ballard’s Kingdom Come (Liverlight, 2012), because even late Ballard is better than no Ballard, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 (Orbit, 2012), because people who imagine interesting futures are more necessary than ever. Last year, I claimed I’d start and finish David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (Back Bay Books, 2006) over the summer. This year, I’ll just claim to finish it. But you never know…

Eduardo Navas

This summer I am reading material that I started earlier in the year. I tend to read various books at the same time.

In terms of fiction, I am finishing Kicking, a novel by Leslie Dick (City Lights, 2001). I ran into a copy of this book quite a few years ago at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, but never got around to it. Leslie Dick is a former teacher of mine from Cal Arts who often lectured on psychoanalysis. She clearly makes use of her knowledge of Freud in this novel for key moments. The novel takes place in the seventies between New York and London. It is a third person narrative of the coming of age of Connie, a middle class kid who finds herself in a love triangle that moves between the two cities. It is interesting to wonder how some of the content in the novel may be inspired by Dick’s personal experiences in the respective cities. It’s a good read, though at times it feels a bit too “bourgeois” in the struggle the hip kids are having with the burden to live with no clear direction, and indulging occasionally in drugs.

I am also finishing The Difference Engine (Bantam Spectra, 1991), a joint collaboration of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. I love used book shops, and one of my favorites is in San Diego’s 5th street and University, where they have a large collection of sci-fi. In one of my last stays in San Diego, I bought the book and did not get to read it until recently. I’m almost done with it. It’s really great to see how the styles of the two sci-fi writers blend into one. It’s a story of an alternate reality, a what-if scenario, in which the United States did not shape out to be as it is now: Texas is independent, The Confederate States have an association, and the territory on the North-West is unclaimed. In this scenario England became a major global power in part because Charles Babbage got to actually develop his difference engine, thus starting the informational revolution much earlier. It’s a bit tedious at times, but very good to read. Well researched too.

I am also reading Capote: A Biography (Simon & Schuster, 1988) by Gerald Clarke. The film Capote is actually based on this biography. I decided to read it after I saw the film years ago. But first I read other works by Truman Capote, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Signet, 1959) and In Cold Blood (Random House, 1966). Reading Capote’s biography is fascinating. It’s actually written like a novel. Gerald Clarke is a very good researcher. Admittedly, this book finds itself at the crux of my research because in part I read literature and related creative material to develop my own art projects. I guess this book is my transition to work-related reading.

I have a long term project on Theodor Adorno called Minima Moralia Redux. For this reason I have been reading three of his major works in the last few months: Negative Dialectics (Continuum, 1981), Dialectic of Enlightenment (with Max Horkheimer; Stanford Univeristy Press, 2007), and Aesthetic Theory (University of Minnesota Press, 1998).

I often cite Adorno in my own research, but have to admit that one must spend extreme in-depth time with his writing to realize that he arguably was the ultimate optimist about the quality of life. The books are not easy reads if one is impatient, but that is the point of his writing: One must slow down to understand things in life. Reading these books leads me to hope that one day academics who try to sound hip will not be so dismissive during conferences about Adorno’s misunderstood position on the possibilities of culture.

Lined up next are Eugene Thacker‘s In The Dust of this Planet (Zer0 Books, 2011), which is a fictional/theoretical text on our obsession with the possibilities of destruction of the earth; Dominic Pettman’s  Human Error: Species-Being and Media Machines (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), which deals with post-human philosophy influenced by the theories of Agamben; and Mackenzie Wark‘s The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International (Verso, 2011), which I look forward to as I am a fan of the Situationists.

 

David Preston

Robert Stone Fun With Problems (Mariner Books, 2010)
Haruki Murakami 1Q84 (Knopf, 2011)
Walter Isaacson Steve Jobs (Simon & Schuster, 2011)
Simon Winchester The Professor and the Madman (Harper Perennial, 2005)
David Edwards Artscience: Creativity in the Post-Google Generation (Harvard University Press, 2010)
Lars Martinson Tonoharu (Top Shelf, 2008)
Neal Stephenson Reamde (William Morrow, 2011)
David Foster Wallace Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity (W. W. Norton & Company, 2003)

Patrick Barber

The short version:

I’m reading The Information by James Gleick (Pantheon, 2011). On my phone.

The long version:

This year I started a new job as creative director at Timber Press. Among other things, this opportunity has lit the fire under a long-smoldering interest in electronic publishing: what it is, how it works, what the future holds. I’ve been spending a lot of time comparing e-book “design” and e-reader function, reading about new ways to present words and pictures, and trying to avoid saying “content” too often.

So far the thing I like the most is reading magazines and newspapers, particularly the New Yorker and the New York Times, on a tablet like the Kindle Fire or iPad. I’ve subscribed to the New Yorker for as long as I can remember, and my grandmother, who got me hooked on it, was a subscriber since the 1930s. And now, after a stretch of mostly collecting New Yorkers by my bedside rather than reading them, I have access to all of the magazines on a little device that I can mostly carry wherever I want to go. So I’m catching up, for the first time in a long time. And I love the way the magazine reads on these medium-sized screens. The apps for the Fire and the iPad are both good; the iPad is better, but both offer very good typography and, occasionally, wonderful extras, like excerpts from books or bonus photos.

I like how magazines are using tablet versions to expand the reach of their graphic design. For example, WIRED has some beautiful and striking animated photo illustrations in their recent issues, and they’ve taken full advantage of the tablet environment for things like gear reviews, where flipping through a series of reviews of headphones, for example, is an interesting and interactive experience. They’re moving past skeuomorphism, breaking free of the page, and making publishing work in the tablet space.

Then there are magazines like Katachi, which is as much a demonstration of the possibilities of digital-publishing as it is a magazine. While the copy and editing is somewhat vapid or amateurish, the design and construction is fun to play with, and makes me imagine incredibly cool digital versions of some of the craft, design, and how-to books that we produce at work.

It’ll be a long while before e-books get to be that cool, though. In the few months that I’ve had this position, I’ve watched as my fabulous ideas about e-publishing are deflated by simple facts: e-books need to be marketed with other e-books, not as apps or special publications (or they won’t sell); there’s virtually no money in selling them (yet), so we can’t put any money into their development, really; creating some kind of beautifully functioning app is way, way, way out of our budget; and yes, it really is like www.1994.com, where the reader gets to “choose the font” — and a sack of other things that, from this graying book designer’s perspective, are just wrong about e-books.

As I mentioned, I like the tablets because of their access to periodicals, which seems like one of the highest purposes of a little minicomputer. I like all the other stuff, like email and Google docs (which I’m using to write this), that I can also get on my phone, but that feel much more comfortable on a tablet.

But books? I borrow an e-book from the library, load it on one tablet or another, read a few pages, forget the tablet in the drawer at work, and end up reading the rest of the book on my phone. Until e-readers (and e-books) offer a design or user experience that justifies carrying around the little minicomputer, I have a hard time seeing an advantage over reading on my phone, since most of my reading is done in transit. The disadvantages of reading on one’s phone are compensated, for me, by how much access I have to the device. I can pull it out on a crowded bus without so much as elbowing my neighbor. I can read in the bathroom, at the coffee shop, while walking down the street (but not crossing! i swear!), even while waiting for coffee or, um, whatever else one waits for.

Books I’ve read recently and enjoyed:

Emily St. John Mandel The Lola Quartet: A Novel (Unbridled Books, 2012): Read mostly on the beach, in actual book form!

Elmore Leonard Raylan: A Novel (William Morrow, 2012)

Julian Barnes The Lemon Table: Stories (Vintage, 2005): Most of it, anyway.

Maile Meloy, everything she’s written — I got on a Meloy kick earlier this year. Her Young Adult novel The Apothecary (Putnam Juvenile, 2011) was especially enjoyable, as was her book of short stories, Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It (Riverhead, 2010).

Some books I’m looking forward to reading this summer, in whatever form ends up being the most convenient or pleasant:

Nell Freudenberger The Newlyweds: A Novel (Knopf, 2012)

Hari Kunzru Gods Without Men: A Novel (Knopf, 2012)

Vanessa Veselka Zazen (Red Lemonade, 2011)

Jussi Parikka

This is a list of what I am reading, what I want to read and what I hope to read — these three do not always meet, but one of the best things about summer (and other non-teaching time) is that one can plan. Planning is part of the fun.

Bernhard Siegert Passage des Digitalen (Brinkman U. Bose, 2003): Siegert is perhaps the most interesting of the current German media theorists, and one of the key people behind the concept of “cultural technique.” Passage des Digitalen is a massive work of cultural history, media theory and insight into a sort of a media archaeology of digital culture. This is approached through its “sign practices”; the visual, textual, spatial and design arrangements which articulate the longer history of media as cultural technique. Siegert has fascination with such non-obvious “media” objects, or design, as water/the ocean (relates also to information theory). He is one of the “culprits” in the past 20-30 years of media theory expanding to the fields of historians, linguists and other humanities – much before talk of “digital humanities” tried to grab the field.  Ok, I am cheating a bit as I just finished reading this one, but I had to include it as it deserves an immediate reread!

A lot of the stuff on my to be read list are funnily enough about diagrams, lines and design – but part of media and cultural theory. A good example is the just published Gary Genosko book Remodelling Communication (University of Toronto Press, 2012) that I am reading now. Besides being an expert on Guattari, Genosko is also a communication and media philosopher and in this book his background as a meticulous and focused writer on communications theory comes clearest. He is able to find refreshing ideas from classical theories of communication such as Shannon and Weaver, as well as develop his Guattarian-influenced ideas of transmission as transformation. As such, there is a curious link to Siegert’s approach; Genosko’s focus on models of communication could be seen to emphasize this visual, diagrammatic side to how we think the most abstract events of communication in the age of technical media. Of course, Genosko is not so much a German media theorist than someone who is keen to elaborate the mixed semiotics (Guattari) of network communications environments. Hence, no wonder that he brings back old things, like Jakobson’s phatic aspect of communications, but in a fresh way.

Besides German media theory, Guattarian influenced diagrammatics, I will definitely try to read Tim Ingold’s Lines (Routledge, 2007) – finally. In addition, I never have enough time to focus on fiction, but the one that I am going to pick up any day now is Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House (Pyr, 2011). What pushed me to it was a tip from Nick Dyer-Witheford. Now, I cannot resist anymore. I’ve been more and more interested in Turkey and Istanbul since my first visit there last November. An articulation of European politics through the nanolevel as significant agent; cannot go wrong with that!

For my dose of network theory, I will grab Geert Lovink’s new book Networks Without a Cause (Polity, 2012) and in a universe where I would have endless time (one has to try to write as well, not just read!), I would read Katherine Hayles’ new book How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis (University of Chicago Press, 2012). Although, why write so much when people have written already such books that definitely need to be read?

Besides planning possibles, I want to flag what is left out (because they will be published only after summer!): I wish I could add Ken Wark, Rosi Braidotti and Alex Galloway’s to the list, but that is post-summer reading list and another story….

Tricia Wang

This will be my first summer where I am not doing fieldwork in China, Mexico or some where in the US. So I’ll be soaking up sun in Brooklyn and feeding my heart lots of brain food in the form of a wonderful summer reading list. I haven’t read any books over one year because I’ve been in fieldwork, so there are many books that I want to read. But I managed to narrow down my list into two themes: 1.) ethnographic monographs written by ethnographers and 2.) creative non-fiction written by journalists & writers.

I’ve chosen several ethnographic monographs about how people learn capitalism. Coming from a sociology department, I’ve been heavily trained in Marxist theory. Marxism helps me understand how labor is a commodity and how people become alienated from their own work. But Marxism doesn’t help me understand why consumers want commodities, how financial markets work, and why capitalism continuously mutates. I’ve found three monographs that addresses the questions that Marxist theory doesn’t address.

Douglas E. Foley’s Learning Capitalist Culture: Deep in the Heart of Tejas (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), is a 36-year ethnographic study on how a Mexican-American community negotiates racial tensions with the dominant white population. Foley gives a biting account of how the very attempt for Mexcian youth to learn traditional American values can often reproduce class inequalities and exacerbate racial tensions. I’m really excited to read Foley’s response to Paul Willis’s argument about class reproduction in his seminal book, Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs (Columbia University Press, 1981). I chose Foley’s book because his work is super relevant and will help me process what I’m watching in China – the arrival of rural migrants in cities and their consumption of games, clothes ,and entertainment in malls and online, often times mimicking elites but other times inventing new rituals. Foley’s book also brings up questions around the dominance of cultural markers that Pierre Bourideu brought up in Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (Harvard University Press, 1987).

Karen Ho’s Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street (Duke University Press, 2009), is an insider’s ethnographic account of the banking world on Wall Street. Her research reveals that macro market volatility is an ingrained part of corporate culture. Ho’s research provides so much insight into how banker’s ideas about their own self-worth reproduce our current financial system. In their world, volatility and liquidity are part and parcel to an “efficient” market and they believe in this so much that they hold themselves to the same standard. The everyday experience of job insecurity is normalized and valorized under the belief that only the best workers survive. I am quite obsessed with learning about financial history because I don’t think I can understand our world and China without a strong grasp of the ascent of financial capitalism. I am fascinated by why so many middle-class in China invest in the stock market and how they define “transparency.” And for investors outside of China, the question at the end of day is, how do I make money in a market with such little transparency. It’s so interesting to hear them ask this question when I think the US banking system is incredibly un-transparent. I want to understand how bankers define transparency in a profit-making context.

Emil A. Royrvik’s The Allure of Capitalism: An Ethnography of Management and the Global Economy in Crisis, is a view on our financial world from an organizational perspective. Royrvik’s several years of experience inside a transnational corporation reveals how managers create techniques to deal with financial crises, investments, and knowledge workers. I am excited to read Royrvik’s work because he took the time to document and understand modern corporate culture without shying away from political economy. I’m seeing this book as the academic version of The Office. I’ve been spending a lot of time with CEOs and managers in China so this book is super relevant to my fieldwork.

I am already anticipating that these three ethnographies of capitalism are going to be quite complex and bring up a lot of questions, so I’m going to have to do some background research on finance. I’m going to start with some financial history from David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years and Toward An Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (Melville House, 2011), and Niall Ferguson The Ascent of Money: A Financial history of the World (Penguin, 2009). I’ve already been reading a condensed version of Carroll Quiqley’s Tragedy and Hope (GSG and Associates, 1975), and all I can say is that it’s absolutely mind-blowing. I’m not sure if I will have time for Jackson Lear’s Something for Nothing: Luck in America (Penguin, 2004), but I’ve been told that this book is a must read for understanding America’s culture of risk. Several people have recommended John Cassidy’s How Markets Fail: The Logic of Market Calamities (Picador, 2010) as a good primer on the economy. Lastly, I’ve already found several blogs that are provide great insight into the world of banking. Joris Luyendijk’s Banking Blog at The Guardian is a anthropological dive into the world of finance. Michael Lewis’s An Investment Banker’s Take on Life is the banking world from a banker. I like Felix Salmon’s finance blog at Reuters because he writes in an accessible way and provides a snapshot of what news most investors are reading everyday.

While ethnographers are known for capturing great stories, we aren’t necessarily known for storytelling. Why is that? Just as much as ethnography is an art in itself. so is storytelling. And like any other form of art, one can be trained into an art form and/or have some innate skills.

Ethnographers aren’t taught the methods of storytelling, such as tone, narrative arc, voice, and character development. We are taught the methods of ethnography. Depending on your academic discipline, ethnographers learn to report observations with as little interference from theory as possible or to marry observations to theories. I love ethnographies of both kinds, but sometimes they can be a bit dry.

Thought, it’s a bit unfair to except for ethnographers to become “writers.” Ethnographers have to dedicate so much time to explaining how they got their data and then contextualize it all within research questions, sampling biases, outliers, data interference, methodological decisions, theoretical arguments, and reflections. After addressing all these factors, the creative voice can be dampened. I’ve realized over the last few years that I’m not so sure I want to always write like an academic ethnographer. I don’t find writing ethnography for an academic audience to be very liberating or creative. And that’s ok. I see the value in it and I still want to write up my ethnographic fieldwork, but journal articles don’t accomplish what I believe is one of ethnography’s public projects — to engage a wide audience in universes that they may not have had a chance to witness — writers and journalists do a really good job at doing this. So my second list is comprised of non-fictional books from writers and journalists. (And there must be ethnographers who are great storytellers. Do you know of any? If so, please suggest!)

I’m excited to read Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbia Undercity (Random House, 2012). Boo is a journalist who has always focused written about the underclass and I want to study how weaved in her first hand experience with the main characters.

Elisabeth Pisani wrote about her first hand experience with HIV/AIDS works in The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS (W. W. Norton & Company, 2009). I want to understand how she addressed a serious topic by weaving in her own voice and her main characters, who were all involved in her fieldwork.

I’m re-reading Philip P. Pan’s Out of Mao’s Shadows: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China (Simon & Schuster, 2009) because it’s so well-written, insightful, and relevant. He tells us about China told through the lens of several primary characters, which highly compliments of a character driven ethnographic work (the kind that I’ve been doing).

I’m re-reading Leslie Chung’s Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China (Spiegel & Grau, 2009) because she did a wonderful job of capturing her character’s personality and the system’s pressures.

Philip P. Pan suggested that I read Karl Taro Greenfield’s Speed Tribes: Days and Nights with Japan’s Next Generation (Harper Perennial, 1995) for inspiration on writing up my stories. Anything Pan suggests is a must read.

Philip P. Pan also suggested that I read Ted Conover’s Coyotes: A Journey Across Borders With America’s Illegal Migrants (Vintage, 1987). I’m super excited to read this because I research Mexican migration, so it’ll be fascinating to read a journalist’s recounting of migration after all these years of reading academic analysis of migration.

I’m re-reading Anand Giridharadas’s India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2012) and Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia (Penguin, 2003). Giridharadas’s and Chatwin’s book were the only books that I read cover to cover when I was in fieldwork last year. I want to re-read them again to analyze their storytelling techniques. Giridharadas splits his chapters up by themes, like Ambition and Love, and then in each chapter his characters appear, disappear, and re-appear. Chatwin writes in 3-5 pages sections and his sparse style brings his subject of interest to life – a geographic region that is known more for being cold than a goldmine of myths.

I have to sneak in one more book that doesn’t fit on my list at all! My colleague, Jenna Burrell, who I blog with on Ethnography Matters, has just published Invisible Users: Acting With TechnologyYouth in the Internet cafe of Ghana (MIT Press, 2012). There unfortunately is a shortage of ethnographic monographs, much less any that address technology use and Africa, so this is a very important contribution to the literature. I can’t wait to dive into this book over the summer.

And since I’m already sneaking a book in, let me also tell you about three other books. Whenever I read, I always have Manuel de Landa‘s One Thousand Years of Non-Linear History (Zone Books, 2000) within reach. de Landa’s book is my theory bible and every time I feel lost or need inspiration, I return to his book.

I often dream of what I read, so I have to douse myself with plenty of gossip magazines and something more spiritual to prepare myself for non-terrorizing dreams. I’m going to add Brian Eno’s A Year with Swollen Appendices: Brian Eno’s Diary (faber & faber, 1996) to my stack of gossip magazines that I need to catch up on.

And lastly, I love reading in other languages. I particularly love the way Spanish captures feelings — everything just feels softer, deeper, and meltier. I always return to Eduardo Galeano’s El Libro de Los Abrazos (English: Book of Embraces; W. W. Norton & Company, 1992) for inspiration, love, and peace. Galeano abandoned the long and linear historical essays for 3 to 20 lines of poetry to tell the stories of colonialism and everyday life in South America. His style of writing reminds us that writing can be in any shape.

Paul Saffo

Daniel Suarez Kill Decision (Dutton, 2012): It releases July 19th (I just read the galleys). It is an edge-of-one’s-chair, high-tech thriller that orbits around autonomous weaponized drones. Scarily, real, and plausible. Suarez is the author of New York Times bestsellers Daemon (Signet, 2009) and Freedom™ (Signet, 2011).

Steven Shaviro

Samuel R. Delany Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders (Magnus Books, 2012): Delany’s latest novel — his longest ever (over 800 pages) — skirts the boundaries between pornography, science fiction, and mainstream literary fiction. The book contains lots of explicit gay sex, but it also includes poignant meditations on memory and mortality. Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders tracks the life of its protagonist, Eric Jeffers, from the age of 16 (in the present) right through until he is in his 1990s (in the late 21st century — this is what makes the book science fiction). Nothing dramatic happens in Eric’s life, even as he lives through a period of immense social and technological change. But that is precisely the point: Delany is interested in the textures of lived experience, even at its most humble. He offers us a history of human bodies, and their pleasures and pains. He also offers us a vision of community, as a widening circle of friendships and affiliations, cemented with acts of generosity and kindness. The novel’s sexual extravagance will shock some readers, while rocking the world of others. But in any case, the book offers us a humane vision of personal fulfillment and social justice, in spite of the terrors that surround us today.

Ian Bogost Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing (University of Minnesota Press, 2011): Ian Bogost is best known as a designer, historian, and theoretician of computer games. But in this book, he discusses a wide range of “weird objects,” in order to answer the question of “what it’s like to be a thing.” Bogost encourages us to step beyond our anthropocentrism, and instead seek to comprehend other points of view: not only the points of view of animals, or other living things, but of inanimate objects as well. We do not live in a unified world, or in one that is organized around our own needs and interests; rather, we live amidst a cacaphonous multiplicity of things and processes — or what Bogost calls “unit operations” — each of which has its own features and its own set of possibilities. Bogost approaches this multifarious world as a philosopher, seeking to decipher the inner logic that makes things tick; but also as an engineer, not afraid to get his hands dirty as he explores, and dismantles, the strange contours and inner workings of nonhuman entities.

Adam Kotsko Why We Love Sociopaths (Zer0 Books, 2012): This short book offers us “a guide to late capitalist television.” Adam Kotsko considers why and how so many of the most compelling characters in television of the past decade (from Cartman to Dan Draper to Jack Bauer to Dexter) are sociopaths: figures who seem both to lack an understanding of social norms (they are devoid of human sympathy and any sense of guilt) and yet to be able to manipulate those norms masterfully for their own benefit. These figures seem to encapsulate everything that is horrible about social life in America today; and yet they are also figures of our own sympathetic identification, as if they offered the hope of overcoming the very ills of which they are the symptoms. Kotsko is a superb cultural critic, who deftly analyzes contemporary popular culture, with a keen eye toward his own (and our own) implication within the emotional currents that he describes.

Carl Freedman The Age of Nixon: A Study in Cultural Power (Zer0 Books, 2012): A definitive analysis of the strangely twisted life, personality, and political policies of our 37th President, Richard Milhous Nixon; together with some cogent discussion of why Nixon’s career is still (unfortunately) relevant to us today, 38 years after he toppled from power, and 18 years after his death.

Kieron Gillen Journey into Mystery (Marvel, trade paperbacks & ongoing comics series): The strangest and most interesting series in either the Marvel or the DC universes at the moment has to be Kieron Gillen’s take on the adventures and entanglements of Kid Loki.

Matt Fraction Casanova 3: Avarita (Marvel, 2012): Matt Fraction’s ongoing creator-owned comics series Casanova is a heady metafictional and pulp-fictional brew. I’ve recommended previous volumes in earlier summer reading lists, in one of which I wrote: “Imagine a 1960s spy-movie hero (James Bond, Matt Helm, Derek Flint) as reimagined by some crazed combination of Jorge Luis Borges, Groucho Marx, and Quentin Tarantino.” The same holds for the all-new volume 3, with individual issues on sale now, and available as a graphic novel in late July.

Ashley Crawford

Sergio De La Pava A Naked Singularity: A Novel (University of Chicago Press, 2012): Comparisons to Wallace’s Infinite Jest (Back Bay Books, 2006) are inevitable. At 689 pages it is a sprawling maelstrom of ideas that bullets along with a narrative that has more in common with a Neal Stephenson epic such as Cryptonomicon (Goldmann, 2003). Like Infinite Jest and Don DeLillo’s Underworld (Scribner, 1998), De La Pava’s tale has a sport motif. But Wallace’s tennis fixation, and DeLillo’s powerful baseball setting, pale beside De La Pava’s orgasmic boxing tableaux.

On the surface A Naked Singularity could be described as a legal thriller, but one injected with musings about the nature of Television (always capitalized), recent discoveries in physics and pure courtroom slapstick that recalls Pynchon at his best (and a truly laugh out loud moment of scatological grotesqurie). There are musings on the Human Genome Project and a moment of correspondence between our protagonist, the long suffering Casi, and a death row inmate that is as moving as Wallace at his best. There’s enough paranoia for one to be reminded of a Philip K. Dick story and enough surrealism to keep a David Lynch fan content. It is both preposterous and profound, a philosophical thriller if you will set in a very gritty and very cold New York City haunted by a Golem-like creature that is depicted as a black void which could only be defeated by a naked singularity.

Ben Marcus’ stunning fourth book, The Flame Alphabet (Knopf, 2012). This is a tome that stuns at every turn, not the least because, for Marcus fans, it takes a twist into almost mainstream narrative. To be sure the obsessions remain intact; language, flesh, rubber, hair, wire, but unlike the disturbingly fractured nature of his previous works, Marcus holds the reins on an equally disturbing linear narrative.

It is intriguing how strongly family (especially children) feature in the recent wave of sub-apocalyptic North American fiction. Steve Erickson’s Our Ecstatic Days (Simon & Schuster, 2005), Jack O’Connell’s The Resurrectionist (Algonquin Books, 2008), Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (Vintage, 2007), and Blake Butler’s There is No Year (Harper Perennial, 2011) all feature the shattered remnants of family and, in each, notions of communication are central. The real apocalypse is the one of loss. Not the loss of luxury items and creature comforts but the loss of true communication. Of Language itself.

If there is a resonating tonality to The Flame Alphabet it is the dangerously dulcet tones of the Surrealist master, J.G. Ballard who, like Marcus, masterfully draws one into a truly psychologically hallucinogenic world.

There are dark hints at the Holocaust, tickles of pop culture (the children render their parents into something very much like zombies after “eating” their brains with language). And there are border-line scholarly forays into the history of Hermeneutics. Marcus hasn’t lost his experimentalist edge so much as mutated it, morphed it into something slightly more digestible. But I emphasize slightly; one should adorn a mouth guard and sound-deadening gear before opening this book. And you should read this book in silence, alone. Very alone.

Brian Evenson Immobility (Tor Books, 2012): It’s not hard to imagine Evenson’s latest as a sequel to McCarthy’s The Road set several decades further into the future. The landscape is certainly as blasted, the noxious dust is almost as pervasive. Evenson isn’t as subtle as McCarthy; it is fairly apparent that this was nuclear Armageddon – the flashing light and the bizarre mutations. This is not Evenson’s first foray into the wasteland – in his 2002 Dark Property (Thunder’s Mouth) a woman carries a dying baby across a desert waste, in a devastatingly bleak book that pre-dates The Road by five years.

Evenson shares with Ben Marcus a fascination for both language and the hazards of structured belief systems. Both question the delusions of structured religiosity and they both question notions of self-perception. Immobility and The Flame Alphabet prove that a dark canvas can still illuminate.

Colson Whitehead Zone One: A Novel (Doubleday, 2011): Whitehead is by no means a genre writer. He is what is known as an award-winning “literary” writer with five previous books under his belt, thus a foray into the Zombie zone came as a surprise for many.

But Zone One is far more than just another zombie thriller. The book carries a burden of nostalgia for an older New York City, a far more multi-textured habitat, a place where “the city itself was as bewitched by the past as the little creatures who skittered on its back. The city refused to let them go.” This is not just a post-9/11 response (as Don DeLillo’s Falling Man clearly is), however the residents do suffer from PASD: “Post Apocalyptic Stress Disorder.” It is just as much a knee-jerk reaction to a city embroiled in bureaucracy and a Kafkian labyrinth of miniscule rules, a city that once prided itself on bridled anarchy and smoke-filled bars with dim lights and solid camaraderie. (Ironically, given the life expectancy in Zone One, one of characters chain smokes pilfered cigarettes while being harangued about the habits’ dangers by another.) In what is no doubt a nod to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, what are left of the major corporations ‘sponsor’ the war effort. Looting regulations protect only the corporate brands that actively sponsor the fledgling government’s tactics.

It is, poignantly, the very minions of bureaucracy that suffer the worst fate, those who fill out pointless forms and photocopy meaningless documents ad nauseum. In Whitehead’s world there are different zombies – he never uses the term ‘zombie’ specifically, they are ‘the dead,’ ‘stragglers’ or ‘skels’ – short for skeletons. What Whitehead makes abundantly and chillingly clear is that the zombies are already here, toiling mindlessly in an office near you.

A fair percentage of the rest of the year shall be consumed by wallowing in Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), which, thus far, appears to be as mind-bendingly fabulous as I had hoped it would be.

McKenzie Wark

Mark Dery I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-by Essays on American Dread, American Dreams (University of Minnesota Press, 2012)

Lauren Berlant Cruel Optimism (Duke University Press, 2011)

Jack London The Scarlet Plague (HiLo Books, 2012)

Raoul Vaneigem La Résistance au Christianisme (Fayard, 1993)

Yann Moulier Boutang Cognitive Capitalism (Polity, 2012)

Marisa Jahn Pro+agonist: The Art of Opposition (Walker Arts Center and REV-)

Frederick Baron Corvo Hadrian the Seventh (Ballantine Books, 1969)

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots? Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification and the Desire to Conform (AK Press, 2012)

Lance Strate

I’m looking forward to reading Howard Rheingold’s latest book, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (MIT Press, 2012). Howard’s books combine accessibility with media ecological insight, and in this book, Howard brings a practical, media literacy oriented approach to the great concern of finding balance among the services and disservices of new media.

I’ve been hearing really good things about Terrence Deacon’s recent work, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (W. W. Norton, 2011), as it relates contemporary thinking in systems theory (e.g., complexity, autopoiesis) to the question of consciousness, so I just recently added it to my list.

As a media ecology scholar, Elena Lamberti’s new contribution to McLuhan Studies, Marshall McLuhan’s Mosaic: Probing the Literary Origins of Media Studies (University of Toronto Press, 2012), is a must read, and her discussion of McLuhan’s relationship to Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Wyndham Lewis speaks very much to the question of methodology in our field. Christine M. Tracy’s The Newsphere (Peter Lang, 2012), which follows up on some of Neil Postman’s insights about news in the television age, is also on my list.

Speaking of Postman, I will be giving Amusing Ourselves to Death (Penguin, 1985) a close rereading for a new book project I’m working on, and along with it I’ll be rereading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1932) and Brave New World Revisited (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1952), and his later novel, Ape and Essence (Dee, 1948), another dystopian vision set in the aftermath of global warfare and destruction.

One book I’ve been meaning to get around to reading is The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath by Joe Lieberman and David Klinghoffer (Howard, 2011).  I’m not sure if our 24/7/365.25 culture is quite ready to reverse its accelerated pace or retrieve the concept of the day of rest, but the Technology Shabbat movement is a response to our overheated media environment, and I’m interested in the topic as a media ecological practice, as well as a spiritual one.

Speaking of spirituality, the new book by Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz, Judaism’s Great Debates: Timeless Controversies from Abraham to Herzl (Jewish Publication Society, 2012) is an absolute must for anyone interested in moral theology or a dialogical approach to religious experience, and it is near the top of my stack of books.

Also in my summer plans are The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake (Anchor, 1997), The Collected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1981), as well as an odd little item I picked up in Brier Rose Books in Teaneck, NJ (one of the few remaining used bookstores in the area), Poem Outlines by Sidney Lanier (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908), and another volume I purchased there, Thomas Stanley’s translation of the ancient Greek lyric poet, Anacreon (Merrill & Baker, 1899). And I am anxious to read the next trade paperback collection of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, Vol. 16:  A Larger World (Image Comics, 2012).

Alex Burns

Aaron C. Brown Red-Blooded Risk: The Secret History of Wall Street (John Wiley & Sons, 2012). Brown is risk manager at AQR Capital Management and a high-profile rocket scientist. Red-Blooded Risk introduced me to risk ignition: using “an optimal amount of risk” for “exponentially growing success” (p. 35). I had encountered this idea in the early trading careers of Bruce Kovner and Paul Tudor Jones II in the currency markets, and in the film Limitless: Brown provides a conceptual framework to understand their success. Brown has different views on the Dutch Tulipmania bubble; the Kelly Criterion; Harry Markowitz’s Modern Portfolio Theory, and Value at Risk. For how to use these insights, also read Dylan Evans’ Risk Intelligence: How to Live With Uncertainty (The Free Press, 2012). Brown’s previous book The Poker Face of Wall Street (John Wiley & Sons, 2006) persuasively argues that Wall Street’s roots lie in gambling and speculation.

Michael T. Klare The Race For What’s Left: The Global Scramble For the World’s Last Resources (Metropolitan Books, 2012). Klare is director of the Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies at Amherst’s Hampshire College. Race focuses on the collision of resources scarcity, investment, international security, and geopolitical crises and flashpoints. Klare brings clear analysis to the Arctic, deep-offshore oil and gas drilling, mining, rare earths, hydrocarbons, and food production. As with Klare’s earlier books, Race is a primer to understand the volatility in global commodities markets, and the recent speculative bubble in rare earths.

John Lewis Gaddis George F. Kennan: An American Life (The Penguin Press, 2011). Kennan (1904-2005) was a United States diplomat, grand strategist and public intellectual credited with formulating the Cold War strategy of containment against the Soviet Union. The Yale historian Gaddis spent almost 30 years researching and 5 years writing this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography. The sections on Kennan’s ‘Long Telegram’ (1946), ‘X’ article (1947), and stint at the US State Department (1947-50) are insightful about how advisers can influence policymakers, how deep knowledge and experience can shape leaders, and the challenges of navigating organizational politics. Kennan emerges as a complex, ambivalent figure who became a realist critic of US foreign policy and an award-winning diplomatic historian. Gaddis’s in-depth research takes the reader deep into Kennan’s mind. For a contrasting view, check out Marc Trachtenberg’s The Cold War and After: History, Theory, and the Logic of International Politics (Princeton University Press, 2012).

John Gerring Social Science Methodology: A Unified Framework (second edition, Cambridge University Press, 2012). Gerring is a professor of political science at Boston University. A major insight of undertaking a political science PhD is how methodology is central to social sciences research. Gerring provides an integrative approach to conceptualizing research problems; descriptive arguments and measurements; causation; and pluralistic, inclusive ways to use different methodological traditions. Familiarity with research design and methods will give you the frameworks and tools to critically evaluate and synthesize information.

Jim Hopkinson Salary Tutor: Learn The Negotiation Secrets No One Ever Taught You (Business Plus, 2011). I saw Hopkinson’s presentation on salary negotiations at SXSW Interactive in March 2012. “Rock your negotiation!” he scrawled at the book signing afterwards. This step-by-step guide focuses on how to do ‘due diligence’ on a new role; how to thwart the ‘evil HR lady’; and handling interviews, job offers, and raises. This accessible primer is an introduction to tournament theory: how rank-order differences can shape individual contract and salary negotiations. Nathan Bennett and Stephen A. Milles’ Your Career Game: How Game Theory Can Help You Achieve Your Professional Goals (Stanford University Press, 2010) is a good follow-up read as is Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (Allen Lane, 2011). Hopkinson’s work can also be modeled using real options theory: Jonathan Mun’s Real Options Analysis: Tools and Techniques for Valuing Strategic Investments and Decisions (second edition, John Wiley & Sons, 2006) is a good methodological guide.

Tadas Viskanta Abnormal Returns: Winning Strategies From the Frontlines of the Investment Blogosphere (McGraw-Hill 2012). Viskanta brings curatorial flair and precision to his investment blog Abnormal Returns: a daily summary of financial news and market insights that is forecast-free. His books are a good introductory overview to the investment process, portfolio management, risk, active management, alternative assets, and other topics. His chapter ‘Smarter Media Consumption’ on Fischer Black’s ‘noise’ traders highlights why I spend far more time these days on ThomsonReuters Datastream than on the Disinformation website. If you want to understand investment at the level of a professional fund manager, then check out David Swensen’s Pioneering Portfolio Management: An Unconventional Approach to Institutional Investment (second edition, The Free Press, 2009); Anti Ilmanen’s Expected Returns: An Investor’s Guide to Harnessing Market Rewards (John Wiley & Sons, 2011); David Smith and Hany Shawky’s Institutional Money Management: An Inside Look at Strategies, Players, and Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2012); John Maginn, David Tuttle, Dennis McLeavey and Jerald Pinto’s Managing Investment Portfolios: A Dynamic Process (third edition, John Wiley & Sons, 2007); and John B. Abbink’s Alternative Assets and Strategic Allocation: Rethinking the Institutional Approach (John Wiley & Sons, 2010).

Jack D. Schwager Hedge Fund Market Wizards: How Winning Traders Win (John Wiley & Sons, 2012). Schwager’s Market Wizards books regularly top the ‘must read’ lists of professional traders for their insights on trading psychology, diverse strategies, and tacit-to-explicit learning. I found Schwager’s interviews with Ray Dalio, Edward Thorp, and Joel Greenblatt to be amongst the best of the Market Wizards series. Trading insights can inform decision-making and resilience, can help you to cultivate an edge in difficult situations, and can warn you of false beliefs, asymmetric knowledge that others may have, and blindside risk. For an alternative collection of interviews read Maneet Ahuja’s The Alpha Masters: Unlocking the Genius of the World’s Top Hedge Funds (John Wiley & Sons, 2012) and Steven Drobny’s The Invisible Hands: Top Hedge Fund Traders on Bubbles, Crashes, and Real Money (John Wiley & Sons, 2010). For a history of hedge funds, read Sebastian Mallaby’s More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010). For an immersive account of what it feels like to trade, read Jared Dillian’s Street Freak: Money and Madness at Lehman Brothers (Touchstone, 2011); Peter L. Brandt’s Diary of a Professional Commodity Trader: Lessons From 21 Weeks of Real Trading (John Wiley & Sons, 2011); Michael Lewis’s The Big Short: Inside The Doomsday Machine (Allen Lane, 2010) on the 2003-07 speculative bubble in subprime housing mortgages and the 2007-09 global financial crisis; Mark Fenton-O’Creevy, Nigel Nicholson, Emma Soane and Paul Willman’s academic study Traders: Risk, Decisions and Management in Financial Markets (Oxford University Press, 2007); Mike Bellafiore’s One Good Trade: Inside the Highly Competitive World of Proprietary Trading (John Wiley & Sons, 2010); Brett Penfold’s The Universal Principles of Successful Trading: Essential Knowledge for All Traders in All Markets (John Wiley & Sons, 2010); and the works of trading psychologists Mark Douglas, Ari Kiev, and Brett N. Steenbarger.

Brian Tunney

Gideon Lewis-Kraus A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful (Riverhead, 2012): A year ago, for this very same list, I was knee deep in Paul Theroux travelogues beneath the depths of the Hudson River en route from Jersey City to Manhattan and back. With real books in my backpack, somewhere between half-eaten Clif Bars and that unopened can of Red Bull that lingers as a reminder that I aspire to be energetic but remain energy-less at the end of a typical day.

Years can be dynamic.

The Red Bull is gone (exchanged at a corner store in Jersey City for a bottle of seltzer), and suddenly I’m driving a car down Century Boulevard next to Los Angeles International Airport, listening to NPR because you can’t read and drive legally, even in Los Angeles. Last week just happened to be their own version of a Summer Reading List, and I listened contently, glad that for once, it didn’t involve politics.

A bookstore, I can’t remember whom, mentioned A Sense of Direction in passing. I heard the words “pilgrimage” and “writer” and that was enough for me to take a mental note of the book and download it later on the weird contraption that advertises diapers and lets me read books without going to a book store or library.

I am only a chapter or so into the pilgrimage. The dedicated pilgrimage has just started for that matter. But I’m taken by Lewis-Kraus’ sense of existential malaise and his attempts to come to terms with the fact that he should be writing, and living, but can’t get past the lives he’s started thus far.

He begins in San Francisco, blissfully living on the cheap with his engineer younger brother, after a relationship has crumbled. This works, for a time, but both decide to move on. (Gideon to Berlin, Micah to Shanghai.) While in Berlin, the author falls in with a crowd that does what Berlin asks of them: live for cheap, enjoy the now, smoke cigarettes and attend art openings.

Lewis-Kraus does all this and more, but never rises above the situation to cast judgment on his friends for simply being in Berlin. He sleeps with women in relationships, doesn’t read the books he’s committed to reading and debates the position of Jews in modern Germany. He casts doubt on himself, wonders what and where he “should” be going, and escapes, for a weekend, to Estonia.

There, he commits to a pilgrimage with a friend across the northern tip of Spain. And that is as far as I’ve gotten so far. But I’ve been hooked the past few hours on it. Lewis-Kraus’ writing is self-deprecating without reaching for a laugh button. He is honestly lost, searching for something to give purpose to his life, and openly inviting the reader on a journey that questions the past, embraces the idiosyncrasies of the present and wonders how to make sense of the future.

I’m hoping he can do the same for me.

Barry Brummett

I am now reading Ralph Ellison and Kenneth Burke: At the Roots of the Racial Divide by Bryan Crable (University of Virginia Press, 2011), and it’s pretty good.

Roy Christopher

Nick Harkaway Angelmaker: A Novel (Knopf, 2012) and The Blind Giant: Being Human in a Digital World (John Murray, 2012): Finally decided to order these after seeing them mentioned by people I respect a lot (e.g., Steven Shaviro, Charles Yu, William Gibson, et al.). The former is a surrealist noir novel like no other. The latter is an exploration of our device-riddled times (à la Nicholas Negroponte’s Being Digital), and may very well outmode my new book. Angelmaker is heady and heavy, but Harkaway’s prose is giddy in its grasp (see his recommendations above). This, Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (Vintage, 2011), and Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl (Night Shade, 2010) are my selection of current-ish novels.

Matthew Battles The Sovereignties of Invention (Red Lemonade, 2012): These short stories baffle and bewilder even as they entice and engross. Matthew Battles is able to achieve in just a few pages what most writers can’t do in a whole book. Where some build machines, Battles sharpens blades. This tiny tome and its tiny tales betray his position as a Harvard librarian: His subject matter(s) and mastery thereof are seemingly limitless.

George Dyson Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe (Pantheon, 2012): I ordered this on Howard Rheingold’s recommendation (see above). It’s as dense as he says it is, but it also rewards the patient read. It’s obvious early on that Dyson set out for this to be the definitive history of the birth of the digital.

I’m also trying to get a decent grip on the decided looseness of the varieties of speculative realism by reading Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology (University of Minnesota Press, 2011) and Levi Bryant’s The Democracy of Objects (Open Humanities Press, 2011). I also added several of Graham Harman‘s books to my Kindle, which I typically find more useful for novels, and Paul J. Ennis’s Post-Continental Voices: Selected Interviews (Zer0 Books, 2010) provides an excellent introduction to this field of fields.

As ever, I’m also reading and re-reading several older books. Among them are,

Bettina Knapp Machine, Metaphor, and the Writer: A Jungian View (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989): I’ve been dragging this book around for years since finding it at A Capella Books in Atlanta. I picked it up not only because it has “metaphor” in the title but also because the first chapter is about Alfred Jarry. I’ve read most of it once and a lot of it several times. Knapp’s approach is unique and generative, I revisit it regularly, and am planning to do so again in the coming weeks.

Anthony Wilden System and Structure: Essays in Communication and Exchange (Tavistock, 1972): Josh Gunn recommended System and Structure to me during my comprehensive exams defense, and I wish I’d come across it sooner. Wilden’s bird’s-eye approach makes this a meta-book that ties all sorts of areas together, from systems theory and semiotics to psychoanalysis and structuralism. To say that Wilden’s work has been slept-on is a gross understatement.

Victor Turner Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society (Cornell University Press, 1974): Again with the metaphors… I’ve found my recent research drifting across the line into anthropology, and Victor Turner has become one of my favorites. His extensive ethnographic studies of ritual and rites of passage are illuminating and provide homologies galore. This and his The Ritual Process (Aldine de Gruyter, 1969), as well as Arnold van Gennep’s The Rites of Passage (University of Chicago Press, 1960) are my current sources. The same can be said for Mary Douglas, whose work I’ve also been devouring, especially Purity and Danger (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966) and Risk and Culture with Aaron Wildavsky (University of California Press, 1982). It’s good to cross the lines sometimes.

What are you reading this summer? Let us know below.

This Bright Flash: Chronicle and Source Code

For many of us, the way we see the world relies on a belief that all the mysteries are eventually knowable. Many of our ontologies hinge on the fact that all will one day be revealed, or that we’ll at least get a glimpse at what’s really going on as we move through this life, that it’s not all just some “lattice of coincidence,” as Miller explained it in Alex Cox’s Repo Man (1984; scene embedded below). Our being is bound by time and space, and untethering it from its temporal and spatial planes requires knowledge from somewhere else.

Somewhere between the teen-angst-with-superpowers of Jumper (2008), the camera-as-character of Cloverfield (2008), and the amazing invention / discovery that drives a wedge between friends in Primer (2004), Chronicle tests the bounds of the human and the bonds between them. As a movie, it’s also not quite like any of these. “It’s the most human superhero movie you will ever see,” Dane DeHaan (who plays Chronicle‘s primary concern, Andrew Detmer) told Fox’s Film File, and that gets at one reason the movie is so compelling.

The Crush: Andrew Detmer

Set in my beloved Seattle (though obviously filmed elsewhere), Chronicle tells the tale of three high school friends of various social status who find something that gives them the mental abilities to move matter. It doesn’t take them long to realize how powerful this makes them and how much stronger they can get. This is all fine and fun until the downtrodden Andrew (e.g., abusive, alcoholic father, terminally ill mother, no friends, bullied at school, etc.) begins to exact revenge on his familiar foes and becomes punch-drunk with power, claiming to be an “apex predator.” His cousin Matt Garrety (second of the three, played by Alex Russell) attempts to mediate the madness, to no avail. Michael B. Jordan, who plays the gregarious Steve Montgomery and third of the affected, main characters, previously lit up the small screen on The Wire and Friday Night Lights. His megawatt on-screen presence alone powers much of the pace of this movie. By the time he is gone, Andrew has lost control and sent the plot over the edge.

For all the things that one could do with telekinesis, the film shows remarkable restraint. Sure, the boys go flying in the clouds and nearly get hit by an airplane, move cars around parking lots, give girls sensations heretofore unfelt, and totally own their school’s talent show, but when things get really bad, it’s restraint — theirs and the film’s writing/directing team, Max Landis and Josh Trank — that saves the day. The trailer probably gives away more than it needs to, but there’s plenty to discover in Chronicle, enough that I’m anxious for the DVD release and subsequent repeated viewings.

Send your dreams
Where nobody hides
Give your tears
To the tide
No time
No time  — M83. “Wait”

Duncan Jones‘ Source Code (2011) is another recent achievement. During the initial, getting-acquainted period, it feels like 12 Monkeys (1995), The Matrix (1999), and Memento (2000) all crammed together and compressed tight, but once it gets rolling, it’s on a track all its own. Writer Ben Ripley brings together some tightly written science fiction and raises some interesting questions. The film is not about time travel per se, but its causal questions are the same: What happens to one reality when we change another quantum reality’s outcome? Source Code, the system for which the movie is named, uses the last eight minutes of brain activity we all experience upon death to allow a person to experience a different timeline in another, compatible person (via quantum entanglement and “parabolic calculus”;  As William Gibson put it, “The people who complain about Source Code not getting quantum whatsit right probably thought Moon was about cloning.”). The idea of the system is to be able to find out what happened just before a catastrophic event (in this case a train bombing), in order to prevent further events from happening (e.g., a massive dirty bomb set for downtown Chicago). Somewhere between brain stimulation and computer simulation, Source Code does its work. But Captain Coulter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) goes in for one last shot at getting everything just right (like Aaron’s repeated runs in Primer) and manages to manipulate more than the system is supposed to allow.

Jake on a Train: Duncan Jones directs the lovelies.

The film’s not flawless, but most of the causes for concern are cast-related. The “bad guy,” Derek Frost (Michael Arden), is barely believable, and Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) serviceably scrapes by, but Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), the inventor of Source Code, is the standout bummer. As a serious scientist, as well as the movie’s real bad guy, he’s not only not believable, but his presence drags down an otherwise well-paced, well-performed movie. Gyllenhaal revisits and repeats a line from Donnie Darko (2001) — “Everything is going to be okay” — as well as some of the other themes from that movie.

There’s no end
There is no goodbye
Disappear
With the night
No time
No time — M83. “Wait”

These two movies rely on well-worn mythologies of mind power and its manipulation of time and space, and, like other narratives of this kind, their underlying conceits rely on glimpses behind the lattice of reality in order to move beyond. But more than that, they rely on the strength of the human spirit to overcome undue adversity. Whether it be bullying in the case of Chronicle or the horrors of war in Source Code, the real story is human.

—————-

Plate of Shrimp: Miller from Repo Man explains it all [runtime: 2:44]:

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Return to Cinder: Supergods and the Apocalypse

Grant Morrison describes his growing up through comics books as a Manichean affair: “It was an all-or-nothing choice between the A-Bomb and the Spaceship. I had already picked sides, but the Cold War tension between Apocalypse and Utopia was becoming almost unbearable” (p. xiv). Morrison’s first non-comic book, Supergods (Spiegel & Grau, 2011), is one-half personal statement, one-half art history. It’s an autobiography told through comic books and a history of superheroes disguised as a memoir. His early history of superhero comics is quite good, but it gets really, really good when Morrison enters the story full-bore — first as a struggling but successful freelancer and later as a chaos magician of the highest order, conjuring coincidence with superhero sigils.

As if to follow Kenneth Burke’s dictum that literature represents “equipment for living,” Morrison puts a lot of weight on the shoulders of the supergods. “We live in the stories we tell,” he writes, and he’s not just saying that. Morrison wrote himself into his hypersigil comic The Invisibles and watched as the story came to life and nearly killed him.

In Supergods Morrison tells the story in high relief and stresses the transubstantiation between words and images on a page and thoughts and actions in the real world. His works are largely made up of “reality-bending metafictional freakouts dressed up in action-adventure drag,” as Douglas Wolk (2007) describes them, “metaphors that make visible the process by which language creates an image that in turn becomes narrative” (p. 258). If you’re not one for the magical bent, think of it as a strong interpretation of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis with a Rortian addendum: If we assume that language creates reality, then we should use language to create the reality we want to live in. Morrison writes, “Superhero comics may yet find a purpose all along as the social realist fiction of tomorrow” (p. 116). He insists that whether we realize it or not, we are the superheroes of this world.

The mini-apocalypse of September 11th, 2001 presented an odd dilemma not only for us, but also for our masked and caped heroes and our relationships to them. On one side, the event questions the effectiveness of our superheroes if something like that can happen without their intervention. Our faith in them crumbled like so much steel and concrete. On the other, after witnessing that day, we were more ready to escape into their fantasy world than ever. The years after that event exemplified what Steve Aylett described as a time “when people would do almost anything to avoid thinking clearly about what is actually going on.”

9/11 is conspicuously missing from Peter Y. Paik’s From Utopia to Apocalypse: Science Fiction and the Politics of Catastrophe (University of Minnesota Press, 2010), as is Morrison, but blurbed by our friends Steven Shaviro and Bruce Sterling, the book provides another look at the link between the printed page and the world stage. As a contemporary companion to Barry Brummett’s Contemporary Apocalyptic Rhetoric, which came out in 1991, Paik’s book provides another peek at the larger picture beyond the page that Morrison alludes to. I do find it odd that there’s no discussion of 9/11, a date that also roughly marks an epochal shift between things that were once considered nerdy and now are not. Morrison rails against the word “geek” as applied to comic book fans saying, “They’re no different from most people who consume things and put them in the corner or put them in a drawer… Anyone who’s into anything could be called a geek, but they don’t call them a geek.”

As much of a nerd as I’ll admit I am, I’ve never really been much for comic books. With that said, I found Supergods enthralling, much in the same way I found the screen stories of Tom Bissell’s Extra Lives. Intergalactic narrative notwithstanding, Morrison’s prose seems both carefully constructed and completely natural. As my colleague Katie Arens would say, he writes to be read. My lack of comic-book knowledge sometimes made following the historical cycles of superheroes difficult, but Morrison’s presence in these pages and personal touch kept me reading hyper-attentively. Here’s hoping he writes at least half of the other books hinted at herein.

————-

My own introduction to Grant Morrison came via Disinformation‘s DisinfoCon in 2000 where he explains the basics of chaos magic in an excitedly drunken Scottish accent [runtime: 45:28]:

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References:

Brummett, Barry. (1991). Contemporary Apocalyptic Rhetoric. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Burke, Kenneth. (1974). The Philosophy of Literary Form. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Hiatt, Brian. (2011, August 22). Grant Morrison on the Death of Comics. Rolling Stone.

Morrison, Grant. (2011). Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human. New York: Spiegel & Grau.

Wolk, Douglas. (2007). Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo.

Summer Reading List, 2011

As usual, the Summer Reading List is the time of year when I ask a bunch of my bookish friends what they’re reading. It’s always a good time, and this year we have newcomers and old friends Howard Rheingold, Michelle Rae Anderson, and Zizi Papacharissi, as well as Summer Reading List vets like Alex Burns, Cynthia Connolly, Steven Shaviro, Ashley Crawford, Peter Lunenfeld, Erik Davis, Michael Schandorf, Patrick Barber, and Brian Tunney.

As always, the book links on this page will lead you to Powell’s Books, the best bookstore on the planet, except where noted otherwise. Read on.

Howard Rheingold

I’m re-reading J. Stephen Lansing’s Perfect Order: Recognizing Complexity in Bali (Princeton University Press, 2006) as part of my continuing research into cooperation studies. The water temple system in Bali is a complex, beautiful, and remarkably effective social and ecological management system that is coordinated through rituals that neatly solve water-sharing social dilemmas that vex much of the planet.

Also, Robert K. Logan’s The Extended Mind: The Emergence of Language, the Human Mind, and Culture (University of Toronto Press, 2007) as part of my research into the possibility that [using] the Web [mindfully] might actually [help] make people smarter.

Alex Burns

Jeanne De Salzmann The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff (Shambhala, 2010): De Salzmann (1889-1990) preserved the writings and movements of the Graeco-Armenian teacherGeorge Gurdjieff, and founded groups in New York, London, Paris, and Caracas. The Reality of Being articulates her unique, ’embodied’ perspective on the Fourth Way, drawing on forty years of reflective notebooks. De Salzmann wrote: “Man remains a mystery to himself. He has a nostalgia for Being, a longing for duration, for permanence, for absoluteness–a longing to be.”

Ronald A. Havens The Wisdom of Milton H. Erickson: The Complete Volume (Crown House Publishing, 2009): Erickson (1901-1980) developed clinical hypnotherapy, and influenced neuro-linguistic programming (the Milton model). Through topical study of his writings, Wisdom covers Erickson’s insights about the unconscious mind, therapeutic change, utilisation, and trance induction techniques. A useful overview to the philosophy and methodology of Ericksonian hypnosis.

Charles Hill Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order (Yale University Press, 2010): Hill is a diplomat who contends that engagement with literature is a way to understand statecraft. Ranging from Homer, Thucydides, and Machiavelli to Milton, Thoreau, Mann, and Rushdie, Hill explores how literature illuminates themes of order, war, the Enlightenment, and the contemporary nation-state. Literature provides a wisdom tradition to reflect on and engage with the international order.

Richard Ned Lebow Forbidden Fruit: Counterfactuals and International Relations (Princeton University Press, 2010): Counterfactuals are ‘what if?’ thought experiments that can probe causation and contingency. Lebow considers World War I, the Cold War, Mozart, and fictional alternative histories. He develops sophisticated protocols for evidence, theory-building, and theory-testing that will enrich social science, from archives and variables, to minimal rewrites and statistical inference.

Donella H. Meadows Thinking in Systems: A Primer (Chelsea Green, 2008): Meadows (1941-2001) was an influential environmental scientist and lead author on the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth report (1972). Thinking in Systems is Meadows’ introduction to systems thinking, non-linearities, feedback, and leverage points. A way to build individual and societal resilience to complexity and global challenges.

Michael Scheuer Osama Bin Laden (Oxford University Press, 2011): Scheuer was head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s unit on Osama Bin Laden (1957-2011) and provides a corrective to earlier books. Scheuer depicts Bin Laden as a dynamic strategist with a deep knowledge of Muslim religious traditions, military logistics, and a long-term, dynamic vision for victory. Although Scheuer’s estimative assessments and specific conclusions will be debated, he also provides extensive end-notes, and a helpful guide to primary and secondary sources for further research.
Douglas Walton, Chris Reed, and Fabrizio Macagno Argumentation Schemes (Cambridge University Press, 2008): Argumentation schemes are processes of argument and inference which underlie human communication. Walton, Reed and Macagno provide an overview of how argumentation schemes inform fields from artificial intelligence to legal expert opinion. They classify and explain 96 different argumentation schemes and show how software tools like Rationale can be used to map out different inference structures.

Cynthia Connolly

Anything by MFK Fisher.

That’s my reading list!

Michelle Rae Anderson

I’m writing a semi-autobiography called The Miracle in July, and this finds me preoccupied with the elements of truth in fiction. I enjoy the intersection of truth and fantasy in following books:

Lidia Yuknavitch The Chronology of Water (2011): Lidia is a swimmer and a storyteller with a wild, self-serving past fueled by anger at helplessness. Beyond the usual “unbelievably shitty childhood” narrative found in most modern memoirs, in the Chronology of Water you’ll find a refreshing lack of apologies for the betrayal of secrets and an unusual writing style that mimics (to me) the little waves of breath in speech, as if the author is sitting there in the room reading the words to you.
Water-y loves, a dead baby, and a search for what “home” means are all critical parts to this story. Oh, and I’m pretty sure that is Lidia’s boob you see on the cover of the Chronology of Water. Pretty impressive for a middle-aged tit, I’d say.

Eric Kraft Herb N’ Lorna (AmazonEncore, 2010): I’ve been in love with this book since I discovered the first edition in my deeply religious grandmother’s car on the way to her memorial service back in the late 1980s. The story begins with a young man who, just as he is about to say a few loving words about his grandmother at her funeral, discovers that she and her husband spear-headed the discrete erotic, kinetic keepsake sculpture movement in the early 20th century.

Maybe it’s the coincidence in which I found the book and how the book begins, maybe it’s Kraft’s mesmerizing command of the well-played sentence, or maybe it’s that I’m just a sucker for a truly wonderful, touching love story…but this is the book that made me really believe in the power of writing a story that resonates, and inspired me to try my hand at it.

Robert Hough The Final Confession of Mabel Stark (Grove Press, 2004): This is the fictionalized, bittersweet memoir of the ferociously determined and beautiful Mabel Stark, a real lion tamer from the early days of Americana traveling circus performers. Working with huge, wild cats with the strength to maul tiny Mabel was nothing compared to the discrimination she faced from the Big Tent owners, and her five husbands could never take the place of her one true love: a white Bengal tiger named Rajah, a 500 lb. cat who considered her his mate.

Graphic bestiality scenes, shocking turns of plot and opportunity, and the ultimate price paid for love makes the Final Confession of Mabel Stark a riveting page turner. I mean, if you’re into that.

Steven Shaviro

Minister Faust The Alchemists of Kush (Kindle Edition; Narmer’s Palette, 2011) and Nnedi Okorafor Who Fears Death (DAW Trade, 2011): These two books are quite different from one another. But they are both brilliant works of Afrofuturist speculative fiction, linking past, present, and future, and moving between myth, magic, and grim social reality. Both novels confront visions of self-empowerment and self-healing with the horrors of genocide in South Sudan. The Alchemists of Kush is like a prose equivalent of some fusion between the cosmic jazz of Sun Ra and the gritty urban hiphop of the Wu-Tang Clan. Who Fears Death is a magic realist parable of future Africa, like a prose equivalent of Jill Scott channeling M’bilia Bell.

Ivor Southwood Non-Stop Inertia (Zer0 Books, 2011): This is a book about what it feels like to be a “precarious” worker, or a permanent temp worker, in the New Economy. Mixing cool analysis with telling anecodotal detail, Southwood dissects the ways that unemployment and even everyday life have been transformed into new forms of soul-shattering, mind-numbing labor, and how sheer economic constraint polices and disciplines us more effectively than oppressive social institutions were ever able to manage.

Evan Calder Williams Combined and Uneven Apocalypse: Salvagepunk, or Living Among the Ruins (Zer0 Books, 2011): Zombie attacks, or the stirrings of new collective urges. The Sex Pistols told us that we had No Future. Public Enemy told us that the apocalypse already happened. Several decades down the road, Williams describes how this catastrophic no-future is unevenly distributed. This book has striking insights, on nearly every page, about how the future has been systematically stolen from us. The sheer ferocity of Combined and Uneven Apocalypse matches that of the undead social and economic order we live in today.

China Mieville Embassytown (Del Rey, 2011): Last year, on my Summer Reading List, I recommended China Mieville’s then-new book Kraken. This year, Mieville makes the list again. He’s one of the finest writers of speculative fiction (or “weird fiction,” as he prefers to call it) alive today. But in Embassytown, Mieville surpasses himself — it’s one of the best things he’s ever done. In terms of genre, the book is a space opera. But it’s really about language, desire, and the nature of self-deception. Human beings share a planet with an alien race that only speaks the truth; but salvation for both species depends upon “our” ability to teach “them” how to lie.

K.W. Jeter The Kingdom of Shadows (Kindle Edition; Editions Herodiade, 2011): Jeter is one of our finest, and most underrated, writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. This is his first new book since his post-cyberpunk masterpiece Noir, published over a decade ago. I’ve just started reading The Kingdom of Shadows, so I’m not entirely sure yet what it is about. But it seems to involve Nazis, classical Hollywood, the uncanny reality of cinematic projections and other images, and strange metamorphoses of the skin.

Jeremy Dunham, Iain Hamilton Grant, and Sean Watson, Idealism: The History of a Philosophy (McGill Queens University Press, 2011): An introduction for a broad readership (but without sacrificing rigor and dense thought) to one of the most important, but also most reviled, trends in the history of Western philosophy. V. I. Lenin said it best: “Intelligent idealism is closer to intelligent materialism than is stupid materialism.”

Zizi Papacharissi

Richard Schechner Performance Theory (Routledge, 2003): Self-explanatorily, it is about performance theory — contains a favorite quote: “Performing is a public dreaming.” This is about drama and performativity in, and the drama and performativity of everyday life. Not specific to the internet, but I like to read this and imagine how it applies to play and performance online, and artificial agents and intelligence, including of course, robots.

Adrienne Russell Networked: A Contemporary History of News in Transition (Polity, 2011): I am a fan of slapping the word network in front of theories and concepts in order to remediate them (network society, networked publics, networked sociality, erm, networked self). It actually works 🙂 Networked is a great way to summarize a lot of things that have been going on in the field of journalism, including what Hermida (2010) refers to as ambient journalism. Really look forward to reading this.

David Gauntlett Making is Connecting (Polity, 2011): Pushing beyond ideas of convergence culture and cognitive surplus, and offering an informed and fresh explanation of how these processes come to be, and what they mean to people.

Joss Hands @ is for Activism: Dissent, Resistance and Rebellion in a Digital Culture (Pluto Press, 2011): Been thinking lately that, depending on context, sometimes online activism is more meaningful that offline mobilization. And sometimes not. Hoping that this book will help me think through this a bit more.

John Urry Cimate Change and Society (Polity, 2011): Intriguing, and a new way of thinking about things.

Also looking forward to Daniel Miller’s Tales from Facebook and Charlie Beckett’s book on Wikileaks and the threat of new news, both out from Polity later this Fall.

Erik Davis

For the last year, I have been part of the editorial team preparing a rather mammoth edited selection of Philip K. Dick’s largely unpublished Exegesis that should come out in late Fall from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. So most of my summer reading is a marathon swim through Dick’s dense, wonderful, insightful, disturbing, boring, and deeply bizarre explorations of metaphysics, cybernetics, madness, mysticism, and God. It is an exhilarating and exhausting project to work on, but the material, for all its eccentricities, seems strangely timely, and I expect it may have the resonance of the Red Book when it appears (it even has lots of great diagrams and metaphysical doodles.) That said, the tome will only represent something like a tenth of the whole document, so this grail for the PKD nuts out there will remain half empty—which is probably just as well, since the desire for revelation is as revelatory as revelation itself, maybe more so.

David Kaiser’s How the Hippies Saved Physics (W. W. Norton & Co., 2011) is a fabulous social and science history about the relationship between consciousness culture, philosophy and physics in the 1970s. He shows how the “big picture” questions initially stirred up by the confounding weirdness of quantum physics were lost in the pragmatic postwar world until a countercultural crew of freak physicists, quantum philosophers, meditators, paranormal aficionados, and speculative no-longer-materialists delved into the weirdest of the weird. Without a hint of snark, Kaiser tells the counter-cultural tales of figures like Jack Sarfatti, Fred Alan Wolf, and Nick Herbert, and books like Capra’s Tao of Physics (Shambhala, 1975). Science-wise, the heart of his story is Bell’s Theorem, whose deeply mindfucking argument for quantum nonlocality—that particles separated at birth can somehow “know” the state of their superposition twins through what is essentially some “faster than light” process or medium linking discrete spacetime reference points—became, for the hippies, a ground for a scientific understanding of all sorts of psi phenomena and hardcore mystical states. Along the way, though, they revived the philosophical issues surrounding quantum reality, which paradoxically are starting to bear practical fruit today, when Bell’s Theorem is a mainstay of quantum information science and esoteric cryptography.

Kaiser is a great science writer, not so much because he is good at describing quantum weirdness (he is, but so are other popular writers, including some of the folks—like Fred Alan Wolf—that he is writing about here). Kaiser is a great science writer because without sounding like the academic he is, his approach is deeply and successfully informed by historical and sociological methods of understanding how science happens: how ideas grow, propagate, and twist their way through changing historical scenes, especially scenes related to institutions, publications, networks of colleagues, and funding sources. And in the 1970s Bay Area, this productive social matrix got seriously strange, with alternative institutions, tech millionaires, and a visionary culture of interdisciplinary research infused with psychedelics, mysticism, and paranormal explorations. The quantum (meta)physical engagement with the nature of “consciousness” leads to some silly New Age science for sure (some of which we can blame on these folks) but it also asks us to really follow through the implications of quantum physics and to recognize how little we understand consciousness—and particularly the possibilities of “expanded consciousness.”

Along the lines of the technology of expanded consciousness, I have often gotten a lot out of Ivo Quartiroli’s posts on his indranet blog – intelligent, critical, but calmly expressed concerns about online culture and consciousness from the perspective of a programmer nerd who is also a hardcore meditator and intelligent spiritual seeker. His new book The Digitally Divided Self (Silens, 2011) is a kind of tech-nerd mystic’s version of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows (W. W. Norton & Co., 2010), where some of the familiar (and not so familiar) concerns about the effect of the Internet on our brains, minds, bodies, and selves (including lots of research) are shot through with a bracing spiritual critique grounded in what one might call “post-rational” states of consciousness and experience. The philosophical language (around “reality” let’s say) is sometimes too simple, and he slips into some rote neo-Luddism at times, but this is very solid technology critique that takes the possibilities of spiritual practice very seriously—including the possibility that the training of attention through meditation may provide exactly what we need to dodge the dubious fate of becoming servo-mechanisms of the hive mind and manipulative networks of influence and distraction. Though it could have gone through another few rounds of editing, Ivo’s voice—concerned, compassionate, incisive, non-judgmental—is a unique and powerful one. Not a jeremiad, but a dharma combat.

Speaking of post-rational states of consciousness, I am incredibly happy to finally be reading Phil Baker’s Austin Osman Spare: The Life and Legend of London’s Lost Artist (Strange Attractor, 2010), the first book-length biography about the legendary occultist and fine artist, who was born in 1886 and died in the 50s. Spare is a fascinating fellow. As an artist, he transformed the aesthetic vibe of Beardsley-esque decadence into a unique and under-appreciated body of work (paintings, drawings, and amazing portraiture) that manages to be at once elegant, haunting, and deranged—the latter element at times reminiscent of Bacon. Moreover, Spare is arguably the most important—and almost certainly the most storied—British occultist after Crowley. His ideas and practices, highly idiosyncratic and deeply interfused with his remarkable artistic productions (especially his sigil magic), built a modernist bridge between the Edwardian culture of pseudo-traditionalist occult lore and a more Freudian, avant-garde, and psychologically radical embrace of the abject, the erotic, the unconscious—a bridge that makes him the godfather of chaos magic. Baker is a wonderful writer, careful, intelligent and tart. He also knows his London, and the Spare that emerges in his portrayal is very much an avatar of that unique and ancient town: humble Cockney beginnings, the bright years as a smoldering wunderkind, and then a long plunge into poverty, obscurity, and a deep weirdness that brought him in touch with Kenneth Grant, to whom we owe some of Spare’s legend. Spare emerges as an almost Blakean character, a visionary Londoner whose poverty could not keep the visions at bay.

Ashley Crawford

Joshua Cohen Witz (Dalkey Archive Press, 2010): Damn you Joshua Cohen. You’ve cost me dearly. Not only in time I couldn’t really afford (work suffered horrendously), but in the way you’ve twisted the world around me. Expending the energy to tackle an 827 page book takes a leap of faith to be sure. It also takes a few strong nudges. When those nudges come in a trinity one has to take a deep breath and dive in. The triumvirate, all discovered in a morning, started with an excerpt on Ben Marcus’ website, rapidly followed by noticing a rapturous blurb by Steve Erickson and then an intriguing interview by Blake Butler on 21cmagazine.com. Marcus, Erickson, and Butler are all heroes. They all wallow in language like words are the salt in the Dead Sea. But then a further google uncovered numerous comparisons with David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, Franz Kafka, and James Joyce. Ahem. And indeed, after several exhausting weeks, I can say that Joshua Cohen joins their ranks with enviable chutzpah. I am not one of the Affiliated, but trust me, you don’t need to be. Cohen essentially paints with words, creating vast canvases that embrace everything from surrealism to science fiction, from heart-wrenching heartbreak to heart-warming hilarity. Despite the sheer weirdness of structure, there is a clear-cut narrative here, albeit with a moment of cunnilingus that would make David Cronenberg blanch. Cohen has created an alternate universe richer than any in contemporary literature. Steve Erickson, in his blurb for the book, states that “the only question is whether Joshua Cohen’s novel is the Ark or the Flood.” My question back is, is it feasible that it is both?

Blake Butler There Is No Year: A Novel (Harper Perennial, 2011): It was perhaps inevitable that Blake Butler would do this. The seeds were already planted in his haunting novella Ever (Calamari Press, 2009) and his blistering, apocalyptic Scorch Atlas (Featherproof, 2009). There was already no doubt that he could write like an angel on bad hallucinogens. But there was no way one could have predicted the horrific tsunami that is There Is No Year – an experimental tour de force essentially unlike anything I have encountered in waking hours. Indeed I read it in a grueling two-day marathon that was not unlike those nightmares one has where one’s limbs are frozen and something unseen is pursuing you. Sleep paralysis is not unusual, but it is in broad daylight. In a blurb for Steve Erickson’s Days Between Stations (Simon & Schuster, 2005), Thomas Pynchon stated that Erickson “has that rare and luminous gift for reporting back from the nocturnal side of reality…” – it is an accolade that would have worked perfectly for Butler and There Is No Year. Indeed, reading this book is like being trapped in another person’s (deranged) psyche. It is, in essence, the story of a family; a father, a mother and a son who live in a melting world that has been assailed by a mysterious ‘light’. They remain unnamed, generic, which only adds to the sense of inevitability the book seems to exude. Upon finding a new home they also find a ‘copy family’. But that, it turns out, is the least of their problems. Indeed the copy family is the least original notion in a book of utter originality (Philip K. Dick utilised the same notion of simulacra or doppelganger in his 1954 story “The Father Thing” and it has appeared elsewhere), but Butler uses this trope to chilling affect. The ever trustworthy Ben Marcus claims that Butler has “sneaked up and drugged the American novel. What stumbles awake in the aftermath is feral and awesome in its power.” Feral is a good description here; Butler has gone off the leash, ignoring the rules of both grammar and sanity. Indeed, there is no year here, no month, no day, no hour. There is no distance, at least in the normal sense. But there is a narrative, in a feverish, nightmarish way. A number of comparisons have already been made to David Lynch (Butler admits to Lynch’s dense and macabre Inland Empire being something of an influence) and, inevitably, with both its “haunted house” theme and typographical mayhem, Mark Z. Danielewski’s brilliant House of Leaves (Pantheon, 2000). Both Lynch and Danielewski certainly hover somewhere in this Stygian night-scape, but There Is No Year stands on its own. Terrifying, ferocious, claustrophobic, a maelstrom of beautifully mangled words, a prose poem of paranoia. Butler has often complained of insomnia, but if these are his nightmares he may well be better off awake. I received my copy of There Is No Year a day after finishing Joshua Cohen’s equally brilliant epic Witz. My love-life, my social life, and my day job are in tatters, but Cohen and Butler (alongside such other Millennialists as Ben Marcus, Grace Krilanovich, Brian Evenson, Steve Erickson, Brian Conn, and others) more than prove that the Great American Novel is well and truly alive, albeit in wonderfully mutating forms.

David Foster Wallace The Pale King (Little, Brown, 2011): The publication of The Pale King has reignited the fascination that David Foster Wallace seems to inevitably ignite. His books, especially Infinite Jest, have inspired books in themselves and his suicide in 2008, at the age of 46, garnered not dissimilar coverage to that of Kurt Cobain. Indeed, DFW became the literary equivalent of a rock star. There was good reason for this. As anyone who has delved into Wallace’s disparate world(s) will attest, he had a voice like no other, regardless of whether he was working in obsessive reportage style or moments that border on pure surrealism. At times Wallace’s conceits border on the science-fictional – his first novel, Broom of the System (Penguin, 1986), is set in and alternate Ohio, where the primary landmark is a 100-square mile artificial desert of black sand, complete with imported scorpions and known as the Great Ohio Desert, or G.O.D., constructed to give its denizens a reminder of their pioneering roots. Similarly a Cleveland suburb has been re-built to emulate the outline of Jayne Mansfield’s body. In Infinite Jest (Little, Broan, 1990) he transforms the entire northeastern United States into an uninhabitable feral zone – an almost Ballardian virtual tropical jungle generated by dumping toxic waste in the area. In this instance, the U.S. has graciously given this land to Canada after ruining it for future civilizations. It is dubbed the Great Concavity to Americans and the Great Convexity to Canadians In this world North America envelops the United States, Canada and Mexico and is known as the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.). Corporate entities secure naming rights to each calendar year, eliminating traditional numerical designations, thus Jest is undertaken during The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment (Y.D.A.U). And then there is one of the central tenets of Jest – the mysterious video-entertainment that is literally deadly. The Pale King eschews much of this other-worldly wizardry, but, Wallace being Wallace it’s not quite the real world either; IRS agents are issued new Social Security numbers, all beginning with the number 9, [a fiction] the IRS building facade is a gigantic 1040 form, picked out in terra-cotta tiling, and one of the agents has the ability to levitate when truly engrossed in his work. It’s not the masterpiece that was IJ, but to fans it is a sad and tantalizing read.

Grace Krilanovich The Orange Eats Creeps (Two Dollar Radio, 2010) Appearing almost simultaneously with Justin Cronin’s best-selling The Passage (Ballantine, 2010) comes yet another vampire book. Both feature blood-sucking ghouls and both feature young girls, and both have more than a hint of the end of the world. And yet, they have absolutely nothing in common. One will entertain, the other will come close to performing a lobotomy on the reader. Grace Krilanovich’s The Orange Eats Creeps is a hyper-adrenalized journey through nocturnal spaces that reek with the stench of decay and mold. The journey screams with a post-punk adrenaline, like Nightwood on really bad acid. The hinted and occasionally overt sense of transgression blisters the page. The book features a perhaps overly orgasmic introduction by Steve Erickson who claims that The Orange Eats Creeps may well represent a “new literature”, a statement that cannot help but make one squirm. Rather than “new” per se, Krilanovitch has inherited streams of surrealist and grotesque elements that coil through the likes of Djuna Barnes, Comte de Lautréamont, George Bataille, Pierre Klossowski, Kathy Acker, and William Burroughs. To Erickson’s credit however, direct comparisons to such authors, beyond their clearly visceral use of language, would be meaningless. But Erickson does get it right when he describes Orange as “a vampire novel then as Celine would have written, with dashes of Burroughs and Tom Verlaine playing guitar in the background: hallucinatory, passionate, hardcore… a fiction of open wounds, like this savage rorshach of a book etched in scars of braille.” Krilanovich must have been forced to hold her ego in check given further comments from the likes of Shelly Jackson: “Like something you read on the underside of a freeway overpass in a fever dream,” she writes. “The Orange Eats Creeps is visionary, pervy, unhinged. It will mess you up.” And then the renowned Brian Evenson wades in with: “Reads like the foster child of Charles Burns’ Black Hole and William Burroughs’ Soft Machine (Grove Press, 1992). A deeply strange and deeply successful debut.” Burns’ Black Hole (Pantheon, 2008) is indeed an apt contemporary comparison. Set in a similarly bleak American outpost of ravaged suburbia, Black Hole is a searing portrait of adolescent alienation. Krilanovich goes one step further by inserting us firmly and uncomfortably inside her narrators often deranged skull, riding her seismic fluctuations of body temperature which seem to swirl dangerously from sexual overdrive to permafrost. Whether Krilanovich’s characters are literally vampires remains beside the point. Describing the ancestors of our protagonist, Krilanovich evokes figures that could be supernatural, but could as easily be simple environmental vandals: “Their contribution to the world lies in pockets of poisonous gas underground, that white swath beating at the door with the swollen fists of the unhappy dead; it wisps under the cabin window sash, animating that season’s psychos in a spark of electrified crackling fat that’s so irresistible they must drag their bones out the door…”

Patrick Barber

James McCommons Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service—A Year Spent Riding across America (Chelsea Green, 2009): Necessary if you’re planning a train trip this summer. A good capsule history of trains in the US either way.

Jennifer Egan A Visit from the Goon Squad (Anchor, 2011): A thorny collection of interwoven stories that is well worth the trip.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón The Shadow of the Wind (Penguin, 2005).

Tom Rachman The Imperfectionists (Dial Press, 2011).

China Miéville The City and the City (Del Rey, 2010): Perfect for transit commutes, this book made my train ride to a faraway teaching job a really good time this spring.

Brian Tunney

For the past few years, I have been on an extensive Paul Theroux kick. And that continues, this summer, with The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling The Pacific (Hamish Hamilton, 1992), a travelogue written by Theroux throughout an 18-month journey that covered Meganesia, Melanesia, Polynesia and ends ultimately, in Hawaii.

The account was published in 1992, when I had just graduated high school and considered a trip to New York City from my suburban home in New Jersey a trek. But I’m not here to discuss relativism. I just thought New York was a faraway place (30 miles) and that my awesome bedroom in my parent’s suburban home was safer and all that I had ever known.

I guess my distant interest with the author started early in college, when I was forced to read his first travelogue, The Great Railway Bazaar. At the time, book reading wasn’t really what I wanted to do, nor was travel by train through Europe, into Asia, and back again over a four-month journey, as Theroux does in the book. But I forced myself through the book, correctly identified the points my professor wanted me to and didn’t look back.

A decade later, I re-discovered the same book in a box stowed away since college, and decided to reread it. Instantly, after gaining a somewhat nominal level of experience with travel through distant and unknown (to me) parts of the world, namely Connecticut and Thailand, Theroux’s writing grew on me. He had a knack for entering into a new part of the world and not passing a subjective judgment after two hours in the new location. Instead, Theroux entered, observed, questioned and conjectured until he simply decided to move onto the next place. His approach was anthropological without adhering to structure, engaging, and altogether the next best thing to actually running around the world by train for a year at a time.

In 2008, Theroux returned to The Great Railway Bazaar with Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, a re-tracing of his journey some twenty years later. And although he had gained some years, he goes out of his way to traverse the same path, exploring the changes in government, culture and the land’s greater history along the way. (Not surprisingly, much had changed, including the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, the post 9/11 treatment of Arab countries and a worldwide energy and economic crisis.) He also goes out of his way to integrate regional literature and past interpretations of the lands he visits (Rimbaud is a frequent reference, but so is Arthur C. Clarke and a host of other influential writers along the way) into the lands he visits.

After Ghost Train, I craved more, and I turned to Theroux to teach me about the world’s greater workings, including Africa (Dark Star Safari) and China (Riding the Iron Rooster). And now I find myself 90-pages into his paddle boat explorations of New Zealand, Australia, and lands I haven’t yet reached in the book. So far, he’s attempted to tackle racism, alcoholism on a societal scale, the killing of animals, and wind in a small paddle boat along the Australian coast. He also just bought a gun in case he’s overrun by wild pigs in the outback.

I read, most days, on a train to and from work, knowing the exact outcome of my day sometimes before it begins. Paul Theroux’s writing is my daily escape from the norm, a window into an once unknown world, and an attempt to reconcile all of the problems of the world by talking to each person he meets one on one and having a beer with them at the end of the day.

I only hope that one day, Paul Theroux stands next to me on the train underneath the Hudson River and wants to talk.

Michael Schandorf

This summer I’m reading about how we enact and comprehend space and time, how our spaces affect our thinking and interaction, and how time relates to cognition. And I’m starting with Carrie Noland’s Agency and Embodiment (Harvard University Press, 2009). Noland is a professor of French and comparative literature at the University of California, Irvine, with a background in dance. The combination has led her to the study of body movement and the enactment of culture in a broad sense. In Agency and Embodiment, she explores a range of theoretical positions, including Marcel Mauss’s early sociological and anthropological theories, the phenomenology of digital art, and post-modern/post-colonial performative agency. The breadth of this contextualization of embodiment promises a rich perspective.

Next up, Erin Manning’s Relationscapes (MIT Press, 2009) covers loosely similar territory. Manning is the Director of Concordia University’s Sense Lab in Montreal, the scope of which is reflected in her book’s subtitle: Movement, Art, Philosophy. Manning offers a theory of movement that connects incipient emotion to the production of language in a theory of “prearticulation” that suggests David McNeill’s studies of gesture in linguistics and cognitive psychology, but with a wider scope that encompasses aesthetic production.

From “prearticulation” to Premediation (Palgrave, 2010)… A decade ago, Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s Remediation (MIT Press, 2000) brought a crucially important rigor to the theorization of media studies. Grusin’s latest, Premediation, is an update and expansion of the theory of remediation that examines the changes in media communication and cultural tenor following the September 11th attacks. In essence, Grusin argues that the blinding pace of information transmission, combined with a general cultural mood of trauma and fear, has shifted our relationship to time from the present focus of mass media communications in the late 20th century to anticipation of the immediate future that dominate much of today’s mass media, especially on cable news. The processes of premediation, Grusin argues, are an attempt to protect the social and cultural psyche from the terror of unforeseen shocks like those of 9/11.

Moving on from largely visual and mediated interactions, Brandon LaBelle’s Acoustic Territories (Continuum, 2010) explores the nature of space, particularly contemporary urban spaces, in terms of sound cultures and the audial embodiment of our lived spaces. LaBelle is an artist and writer teaching at the National Academy of Arts in Bergen, Norway, and Acoustic Territories appears to be an expansion of the themes in his previous book, Background Noise (Continuum, 2006), which focused more exclusively on consciously aesthetic production. Sound is a crucial sense for most of us for purposes of social identification, but the role hearing places in our conceptualization and enactment of space and time is largely taken for granted. I’m looking forward to digging into LaBelle’s treatment.

Finally, a book whose connection to these themes is a bit more tenuous – but one I’m really excited about – is R. Douglas Fields’ The Other Brain (Simon & Schuster, 2010). Neurons and their physiology have been the focus of brain research and the basis of cognitive theories since their discovery and early description. But neurons only make up about 15% of the brain. Most of the rest of that mass is glial cells, which have historically been brushed aside as ‘helper cells’. Fields reviews important recent research on glial cells showing that they do far more than “help”: glial cells organize and structure neurons and modulate both neuronal transmission and synaptic activity. They communicate both with neurotransmitters and globally with broader chemical and bioelectrical signals, making them far more important to the processes of cognition than has been previously acknowledged. Thinking is more than synapses as mind is more than thinking.

Peter Lunenfeld

Summer is when I catch up with fiction and read a few things that might touch on work when it kicks back into gear in the fall. There’s an old joke that professors will never admit to reading something, they are always “rereading.” But I’m fully willing to admit that this is the summer I’ve decided to read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest for the first time. I’ve never carved the time and attention out for his 1K+ page masterpiece. Now I am.

I’ve been writing for The Believer and decided to work my way through the novels of its three co-editors. A few years back I read Heidi Julavits’ third book, Uses of Enchantment (Anchor, 2008), a fantastic novel about young women and the myth and mystery of memory, and I now plan to read in reverse, tackling her second book, The Effect of Living Backwards (Berkley Trade, 2004). I recently went to the Hammer Museum in LA where Heidi and Vendela Vida both read. Vendela’s was from The Lovers (Ecco, 2010), and the excerpt she chose was so poignant and evocative of place and time (Florence, a quarter of a century ago) that her novel, along with its predecessor, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name (Harper Perennial, 2008), are on my list. To round off my Believer kick, I’m also planning to read third co-editor Ed Park’s Personal Days (Random House, 2008), a novel of contemporary office life.

I consumed the uneven Steig Larsson trilogy, and continue to explore Scandinavian crime fiction. So this summer, I’ll probably read some or all of Jo Nesbø’s Oslo-based noir mysteries, including the neo-Nazi themed The Redbreast (Harper, 2008), the heist story Nemesis (Harper, 2009), and the serial killer-driven The Devil’s Star (Harper, 2011 ; though sexual-serial killings was the lamest part of the Girl With that Tattoo who Lit Stuff on Fire and Kicked Nests). On the other hand, I’ve never read mysteries by anybody with an ø in their name, so perhaps that will make up for it.

In the fall, I’ll continue working on a series of essays about Los Angeles and its history, and one of the books I’m looking forward to reading for this project is Spencer Kansa‘s Wormwood Star: The Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron (Mandrake, 2011). Cameron was a fascinating figure, the lead actress in Kenneth Anger’s film, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, and the consort of the endlessly fascinating Jack Parsons, rocket pioneer, co-founder of the Jet Propulsion Lab, nemesis of L. Ron Hubbard, and Satanist. Parsons and Cameron tried to give birth to a Moon Child, but that’s a long story…

Finally, through the summer I’ll be playing around with an app that Chandler McWilliams developed for my new book, The Secret War Between Downloading & Uploading (MIT Press, 2011). The app is called GenText, takes the last chapter of the book – a stand-alone history of the computer as culture machines titled “Generations” – and renders it accessible at three levels — abstract, page, and full section — with a dynamic interaction between the levels that literalizes the metaphor of “zooming” into a text. The book’s companion website, points you to it as well as other e-pub goodies.

Roy Christopher

I’m currently working on my book, The Medium Picture (for Zer0 Books), so most of my reading lately has been related to the writing. That means essential texts from Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, Neil Postman, Howard Rheingold, Doug Rushkoff, Paul Levinson, Steven Johnson, Ted Nelson, Lev Manovich, Kate HaylesPeter Lunenfeld, David Weinberger, Stewart Brand, Jay David Bolter, Janet Murray, McKenzie Wark, and others — all of which lead me to newer stuff like…

James Gleick The Information (Pantheon, 2011): James Gleick always brings the goods, and The Information is no exception. This is a definitive history of the info-saturated now. From Babbage, Shannon, and Turing to Gödel, Dawkins, and Hofstadter, Gleick traces the evolution of information theory from the antediluvian alphabet and the incalculable incomplete to the memes and machines of the post-flood. I’m admittedly biased (Gleick’s Chaos quite literally changed my life’s path), but this is Pulitzer-level research and writing. The Information is easily the book of the year.

Peter Lunenfeld The Secret War Between Downloading & Uploading (MIT Press, 2011): The subtitle of Peter Lunenfeld’s newest book is “Tales of the Computer as Culture Machine.” Lunenfeld employs downloading and uploading for cultural consumption and production respectively. His metaphors are apt, and astutely frame the computer’s role in our current culture. This is an important little book that should not be ignored.

Adam Bly Science is Culture (Harper Perennial, 2010): I love magazines, and one of my favorites was Seed. Adam Bly is/was their editor (they’re online-only now), and one of my favorite parts of Seed was the Seed Salon, in which two scientific or literary luminaries — whose interests are often unexpectedly juxtaposed — discuss a pressing science issue. Well, Bly’s new book compiles all of the Seed Salon sessions in one place. It includes such pairings as David Byrne and Daniel Levitin, Albert-László Barabási and James Fowler, Jonathon Lethem and Janna Levin, Benoit Mandlebrot and Paola Antonelli, Will Self and Spencer Wells, Jill Tarter and Will Wright, Tom Wolfe and Michael Gazzaniga, and Robert Stickgold and Michel Gondry, among many others. Unexpected things emerge when pairs of minds like these come together.

Elizabeth Parthenia Shea How the Gene Got Its Groove (SUNY Press, 2008): In How the gene Got Its Groove, Shea argues that the gene is no more than a figure of speech, a trope, a metonymy for a unit of life-stuff that may or may not exist. It’s an intriguing romp through lingustic strategy, the tenuousness of language, and indeed the rhetorical nature of science itself.

McKenzie Wark The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International (Verso, 2011): Ken Wark‘s been writing around and adjacent to the Situationists for years. It’s awesome to see him finally dive into their strange land in earnest. There are many texts on Guy Debord and the Situationists, but few dig as deep or get their work the way Ken Wark does. As a rare bonus, the hardback comes with a fold-out dust cover with a graphic essay composed and drawn by Kevin C. Pyle based on selections from Wark’s text.

Steven Shaviro Post-Cinematic Affect (Zer0 Books, 2010): I’ve been meaning to write about Steven Shaviro‘s new book since I got it last year. It’s a fascinating exploration of four cinematic artifacts: Grace Jones’ “Corporate Cannibal” video, and the films Boarding Gate (2007), Gamer (2009), and Southland Tales (2006), the latter of which is one of my recent favorites. The book’s title comes from Shaviro’s central claim: that so-called “new media” hasn’t killed but transformed filmmaking, and since media artifacts as such are “machines for generating affect,” these four works represent perfect occasions to discuss our current state of post-cinematic affect.

————

Well, that’s what we’re reading this summer. Time to get to it.

[Pictured above: Lily checking out The Hitch. photo by royc.]

Summer Reading List, 2010

It’s that time again… For those who don’t know, every year around this time,  I ask a bunch of my friends and colleagues what they’re reading and then I compile it and post it here. This year, new participants Nancy Baym, Ian Bogost, Andy Jenkins, Kenyatta Cheese, and Michael Schandorf, and join regular contributors Steven Shaviro, DJ Spooky, David Silver, Dave Allen, Patrick Barber, Ashley Crawford, Howard Bloom, Alex Burns, Peter Lunenfeld, Cynthia Connolly, and Erik Davis. Thanks to everyone who contributed and to those who didn’t but considered doing so.

As always the book links on this page will take you to the selected title in Powell’s Bookstore. Enjoy, and leave your own reading recommendations in the comments below.

Andy Jenkins

Jason Turbow with Michael Duca The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing & Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime (Pantheon, 2010): Summertime is baseball time. Over the last decade I’ve become a real baseball nerd and any book that delves into the intricate folds of this game will usually get  my attention — The Baseball Codes being no exception. It’s an in-depth look into the unwritten rules of the game (even though that’s exactly what Turbow and Duca have done here — written them down), the stories usually told by the players themselves. The abundance of names and places and times can become a little overwhelming, but if you sit and read one or two anecdotes at a time, this is a good read for any baseball fan.

Steven Johnson The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How it Changes Science, Cities and the Modern World (Riverhead Books, 2006): You’d think a book about the London cholera epidemic in the summer of 1854 would be a pretty depressing read, but The Ghost Map is quite the contrary. Johnson interweaves the battle to control the microbial war with the minds of the men doing most of the thinking and the future repercussions of their ideas. Take a look around you, breathe deeply, be thankful for running water and give your garbage man a high five… if you don’t really feel like doing that right now, after you read this book you will.

Jennifer Egan A Visit from the Goon Squad (Knopf, 2010): Goon Squad caught me right in the first couple of pages as the main character, Sasha, is conferring with her therapist — something I  just recently started doing myself. Sasha is a compulsive thief, I’m a depressed self-inflicted recluse. The honesty she shares with her therapist is something I’m striving for. Guess I’ll keep reading…

The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley (Ballantine Books, 1964): I recently caught a TV show called Iconoclasts with Maya Angelou and Dave Chappelle. Strange match-up on some levels, but the thing I was most impressed with was Angelou’s past and the people in it. She was a personal friend to Malcolm X. Hearing that and seeing Malcolm’s iconic portrait on a wall in her house made me pull this book out again. I’d recommend this for anyone’s summer reading list. The path this man’s life took is an interesting and inspiring one.

Jordan Crane The Clouds Above (Extra Fancy Edition) (Fantagraphics Books, 2005) and How to Speak Zombie: A Guide for the Living by Steve Mockus, illustrated by Travis Millard (Chronicle Books, 2010): Both of these are picture books. And both of these are illustrated by two of my favorite line artists, Jordan Crane and Travis Millard. Crane’s book is a beautifully illustrated and made, hard-bound piece of art with very little dialog — it’s almost exclusively a visual narrative that recount the “Terribly Terrific and Tremendously True Travels of Simon Jack.” Jack, a cat, talks, of course, as do the zombies in Millard’s drawings — literally: Press the buttons on the lower right and you’ll here them “speak.” Handy translations are given by Steve Mockus. Both hilarious and possibly helpful depending on what you view of our future looks like.

Kenyatta Cheese

I have but two books that I’m reading this summer.

The first one is a collection of essays called Deleuze and New Technology edited by David Savat and Mark Poster (Edinburgh University Press, 2009). While Gilles Deleuze didn’t live long enough to see the particular web of digital and biotech that we live among today, his theory and writing clearly anticipates it. Deleuze’s (and Guattari’s) concept of the rhizome as an organizational theory has a surface analogue in our Internet, and the Society of Control can be seen as Web 2.0 with a dark cape. Deleuze was critical of the “machines” that he thought about but he never bothered thinking of them as evil. He seemed to be much more interested in the forms that emerged out of our machine-assisted living. These essays are an attempt to extrapolate what some of those thoughts might have been. While Poster is the headliner in this collection, I’m looking forward to the essays by William Bogard, Verena Conley, and Eugene Thacker, whom I consider fantastic theorists in their own right.

The other book that I’m reading is Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball (Ballantine/ESPN Books, 2009), 700-page sandbag of a book that includes his history of the National Basketball Association, his take on race in the league, and an endless supply of digg-bait style listicles of the Best Players, Best Teams, and other barely quantifiable attributes. I love basketball but I cringe when reading Simmons’ column for ESPN. His pop culture references read like SportsCenter channeled through an episode of Family Guy. His tangents are legendary for their pointlessness. A friend described this book to me as an overlong blog post written by a juvenile frat boy who watches too much porn. I expect that I’ll enjoy this book immensely.

Nancy Baym

My summer reading is all about music!

Scott Kirsner Fans, Friends and Followers (CreateSpace, 2009): Building an audience and a creative career in the digital age. This is a how-to book aimed at musicians and artists looking to build an online following. It’s got excerpts from about thirty interviews and is a pretty interesting read.

Greg Kot Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music (Scribner, 2009): This one’s also about music and the internet and has gotten great reviews. Kot’s a music writer for The Chicago Tribune and a smart guy, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how he frames the issues around music and the net.

Daniel Levitin This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession (Plume, 2007): I’ve taken this book with me on several vacations. Every time I hear him interviewed I’m mesmerized by his insights into why music affects us, and I’m eager to finally read it.

David Suisman Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music (Harvard University Press, 2009): This is an historic academic tome about how music came to be a big business. I’m always eager to situate current trends in their historical context so I’m hoping this one helps with that.

Aram Sinnreich: Mashed Up: Music, Technology, and the Rise of Configurable Culture (University of Massachusetts Press, 2010): Sinnreich is one of the smartest people thinking about contemporary digital music practices, and this book, due out in August, is likely to have a big influence on how people understand what Lessig called “remix culture.”

Philip Auslander Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture (Routledge, 2008): Okay, this one isn’t just about music. It’s a fairly short inquiry into the boundaries between recording and live performance and the differential status and meanings of the (increasingly blurred) two.

Two books that are not about music, but which I’ve read recently and plan to reread soon are Matt Beaumont’s e (Plume 2000) and e Squared (Plume, 2010). They’re hilarious, ribald novels set in a London ad agency. The first is written entirely in emails, the second is written in emails, blog posts, and text messages. Excellent summer reading if you don’t mind bad words and want to laugh hard.

Alex Burns

Jaron Lanier You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010): Remember the internet’s promise in the pre-dotcom era? Lanier brilliantly derails four shibboleths—‘cybernetic totalism’, ‘digital maoism’, and populist views of the Cloud, and the Singularity—that shape the ‘ecologies of mind’ in Open Source and Web 2.0 communities. Rather than big-n crowds, You Are Not A Gadget is a spirited defense of individual creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, and ‘moral rights’: the necessary ingredients for deeper meaning-making. It also conveys Lanier’s strategies for the ‘ideation’ and ‘fast prototyping’ phases of the innovation cycle.

David H. Ucko The New Counterinsurgency Era: Transforming the U.S. Military for Modern Wars (Georgetown University Press, 2009): U.S. General David Petraeus and Australian strategist David Kilcullen are often credited with shaping the renewed interest in counterinsurgency (COIN) and the 2007 ‘surge’ strategy in Iraq. Ucko’s doctoral dissertation focuses instead on the U.S. military as a ‘learning organization’ and how it has facilitated and adapted to COIN. Ucko conveys the dynamic inter-relationship between how many different processes—doctrine formulation, leadership development, defense budget, technology acquisition, and stability operations—have reshaped the U.S. military as an institution for ‘military operations other than war’ like counterinsurgency, peacekeeping and stability operations.

Sarah Ellison War at the Wall Street Journal: How Rupert Murdoch Bought an American Icon (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010): During a 2002 interview, the award-winning Australian investigative journalist Neil Chenoweth gave me a jaw-dropping insight into Murdoch: He uses game theory in mergers and acquisitions, and has at least three levels of games during a bid. Ellison’s fly-on-the-wall case study shows how, and is thus less like the fawning biographies of William Shawcross (Murdoch) and Michael Wolff (The Man Who Owns The News) and closer to the 1976-1983 period of authors like Michael Leapman (Barefaced Cheek). Authors in this earlier period contended Murdoch’s ‘apotheosis’ was due to his acquisitions of News of the World, The Sun, and The Times, and Ellison shows how he has not lost his touch. Whilst you were busy updating your Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter accounts, Murdoch bought and revamped a financial news empire.

William D. Cohan House of Cards: How Wall Street’s Gamblers Broke Capitalism (Doubleday, 2009): There’s now easily an entire bookshelf on the 2007-09 global financial crisis. Cohan’s House of Cards on Bear Stearns’ collapse stands out as a model of investigative journalism, and a worthy successor to the 1988-92 period: Michael Lewis (Liars’ Poker), James B. Martin (Den of Thieves), Connie Bruck (The Predator’s Ball) and Bryan Burrough and John Helyar (Barbarians at the Gate). Two reasons why: Cohan is a former investment banker, and he got access to ‘insiders’. House of Cards may still be read in 10-to-15 years for its lessons on dysfunction culture, power politics and status hierarchies.

Charles D. Ellis The Partnership: A History of Goldman Sachs (Penguin, 2008): For decades Goldman Sachs has been the pre-eminent ‘bulge bracket’ investment bank. On April 16th, 2010, the U.S. Securities and Investments Commission charged Goldman Sachs with fraud over the structuring of a collateralized debt obligation deal for hedge fund maven Henry Paulson. To understand Paulson’s strategy read Gregory Zuckerman (The Greatest Trade Ever) and Michael Lewis (The Big Short). To understand Goldman Sachs read this detailed institutional history on how its processes for culture, leadership development, and financial services innovation mean the holding company will continue to attract the ‘best and brightest’, despite the SEC case and other GFC-related lawsuits from international regulatory and supervisory agencies. If Cohan’s House of Cards conveys why institutions fail, Ellis shows how despite crises they can adapt and cultivate resilience.

Jeremy Bernstein Physicists on Wall Street and Other Essays on Science and Society (Springer, 2008): ‘Quants’ — or mathematicians and physicists who designed complex financial products such as derivatives, swaps and option pricing models — are widely blamed for the 2007-09 global financial crisis. Bernstein’s academic monograph is an anecdote and detailed rich study of how and why ‘quants’ became popular on Wall Street in the 1980s and 1990s, and the parallels of developing a knowledge base in other fields and disciplines. In doing so, Bernstein builds on Emmanuel Derman’s biography (My Life As A Quant), which captured the transition from Bell Laboratories’ isolative research culture to Goldman Sachs’ team-based, deal-flow approach. Amongst the many details and side-glances here are the Cold War’s geopolitical influence on immigrant ‘quants’, A.Q. Khan’s covert nuclear network, the linguist Michael Ventris who deciphered Etruscan B; the emergence of author Michel Houellebecq and his interest in the gothic horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft; and the role of Poisson mathematics in Nazi Germany’s V-2 rocket program. My personal ‘aha!’ moment was Bernstein’s final essay, ‘Beating the System’, a guide to academic survival in Los Alamos, Livermore, and Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. Bernstein’s book has an intriguing synchrony to the other books on my 2010 list: how individual and collaborative research, innovation, and creativity may thrive in a well-designed and facilitative institutional context.

David Silver

For as long as I can remember, Nixon-related books have occupied the highest shelf on my parents’ book collection — book’s like John Dean’s Blind Ambition and Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President’s Men and The Final Days. A few weeks ago, while visiting my mom, I reached up to the top shelf and plucked down The Final Days (Simon & Schuster, 1976). It’s the story of a criminal, crooked, crazed, paranoid, and totally incompetent president and the final months, weeks, and days of his reign. Great summer reading!

A few months ago, at Moe’s Books in Berkeley, I traded three brand new academic books about digital media for one used copy of Edward Espe Brown’s The Complete Tassajara Cookbook: Recipes, Techniques, and Reflections from the Famed Zen Kitchen (Shambhala, 2009). What a great deal! I started reading and cooking from this book in late spring and will continue through summer and beyond.

As its title suggests, Pam Peirce’s Golden Gate Gardening: The Complete Guide to Year-Round Food Gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area and Coastal California (Sasquatch Books, 2010) tells Northern Californians what to plant, why, how, and when. It’s my bible — especially in summer. I’m also reading Gayla Trail’s Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces (Clarkson Potter, 2010) for some wonderful and creative tricks and techniques.

This summer, I’m working on a new freshmen seminar called “Golden Gate Park” which, if approved, will run next spring. To generate ideas and stimulate the old noggin, I’m reading, skimming, and scanning all kinds of wonderful books like Raymond H. Clary’s Making of Golden Gate Park: The Early Years: 1865-1906 (Don’t Call It Frisco Press, 1984); Chris Pollock and Erica Katz’s San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park: A Thousand and Seventeen Acres of Stories (Westwinds Press, 2001); Sally B. Woodbridge, John M. Woodbridge, and Chuck Byrne’s San Francisco Architecture: An Illustrated Guide to the Outstanding Buildings, Public Art Works, and Parks in the Bay Area of California (Ten Speed Press, 2005); Christopher Pollock’s Golden Gate Park: San Francisco’s Urban Oasis in Vintage Postcards (Arcadia Publishing, 2003); and Hosea and Nellie A. Blair’s Monuments and Memories of San Francisco: Golden Gate Park (Calmar Printing Company, 1955).

Most of my summer reading, I suspect, will be read out loud, to Siena, our eleven-month old daughter, and revolve around stories about clever animals, being kind and curious, and going to sleep.

Ashley Crawford

Eugene Marten Firework (Tyrant Books): I was sent this reader’s copy of Firework by Eugene Marten by the publisher of Tyrant Books, Giancarlo DiTrapano. DiTrapano had, not so long ago, published a limited edition of Brian Evenson’s Baby Leg, so there was good reason to pause. Baby Leg is a masterpiece and Tyrant’s edition a work of art. And Evenson had blurbed Marten’s previous book, Waste, with something bordering on awe. I trust Evenson’s blurbs.

But then I opened to DiTrapano’s brief introduction in which he describes being told by Gordon Lish that Eugene Martin was one of three great living American male authors alongside Cormac McCarthy and Don DeLillo. Right, I thought. There’s hype and then there’s real hype, the kind that makes you raise eyebrows, reconsider Lish’s standing in the literary community, and think that this Giancarlo DiTrapano was simply full of it.

DiTrapano starts his publisher letter by stating that he smoked ten cigarettes during the last sixty pages of Firework. Well, sorry to tell you Mr DiTrapano, and my doctor, I smoked ten clove cigarettes in the first twenty pages and was up to almost one a page by the time this book incinerated in my hands.

And sorry Mr. Lish, he’s no McCarthy or DeLillo, as flattering as those comparisons are. He’s Marten through and through. To be sure there are hints of the harsh language and linguistics of those more senior figures, but Marten’s narrative takes us down another road altogether. This is bleak, bleak material and captivating beyond belief.

It’s a road trip of sorts through an America blasted by economic Armageddon and racial slurs. The main character, one Jelonnek, seems to fight inertia to the end. We never seem to get inside him. We are hapless witnesses to sometimes inexplicable acts, moments of kindness and violence that erupt from the page like smoldering matches.

Given this is a reader’s copy I shan’t quote directly from the text, but apart from the occasional line-break I swear if DiTrapano touches a word I’ll strangle him. A masterwork? I’m very tempted to say so.

Michael Schandorf

First of all, I don’t have a “summer reading list.” I have precarious stacks, overflowing shelves, reading material on every flat surface, and some flat surfaces comprised entirely of reading material. Books as furniture. This doesn’t count all that stuff in my Kindle I’ll never get to. But I’ll do my best to contribute here by grabbing things within arm’s reach of my recliner without toppling any essential supports.

First up, to my left, is John Durham Peters’ Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication (University of Chicago Press). (Thanks to Roy C. for pointing me to this one.) Peters is a professor of communication at the University of Iowa, and this, his first book, published in 1999, lays out the theoretical grounds of the study of communication going from Socrates and the roots of rhetoric to information theory, passing through theology, philosophy and psychology along the way. Peters sets up the book with a contrast between Socrates view of dialectic based in eros and the early Christian rhetoric of dissemination. Don’t tell me how it ends!

Underneath Speaking into the Air are Régis Debray’s Media Manifestos: On the Technological Transmission of Cultural Forms (Verso, 1996) and Transmitting Culture (Columbia University Press, 1997). Debray coined the term “mediology” for his combination of semiotics and medium theory, which develops a theory of cultural “transmission” that seems to cover ground similar to James Carey’s “ritual” view of communication (which Carey lifted from Kenneth Burke) – but reversing the terms (I guess because he’s French and likes to make things difficult) and being less pessimistic (apparently rebelling against his French-academic-ness). Debray covers all the media theory with its critical theory bases that we get here in US graduate communication school, but I’ve never heard him mentioned. Hope to soon find out why that it is.

I came across Debray in Michael Cronin’s Translation and Globalization (Routledge, 2003). Cronin is the Director of the Centre for Translation and Textual Studies at Dublin City University, Ireland. Translation and Globalization and the more recent Translation and Identity (Routledge, 2006) examine the role of translation in the contemporary world, drawing on communication and medium theory as well as critical theory and cultural studies. Translators and the act of the translation (in business, politics and culture) serve as a medium of interconnection in a globalized world, occupying a liminal position between cultures and the worldviews generated by the fluid structures of language. Haunting these discussions (at least in my head) is Paul Ricouer’s On Translation (Routledge, 2006), which argues that all communication – even intrapersonal communication involves the act of translation: the meeting and negotiation of different webs of knowledge and conflicting motivations.

The first of the two closest books on my right is Siegfried Zielinski’s Deep Time of the Media (The MIT Press, 2006). Zielinski is the Founding Director of the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne, Germany, and this book covers more media theory, but with a decidedly different take using decidedly different sources and examples: “a theater of mirrors in sixteenth-century Naples, an automaton for musical composition created by the seventeenth-century Jesuit Athanasius Kircher, and the eighteenth-century electrical tale-writing machine of Joseph Mazzolari, among others.” Zielinski examines the “historical-media archeological record” and “illuminates turning points of media history—fractures in the predictable—that help us see the new in the old,” and presumably vice versa. Next to Zielinski is Fredric Jameson’s Valences of the Dialectic (Verso, 2009): spoiler alert – it was Karl in the study with a kitchen knife.

Cynthia Connolly

M. F. K. Fisher The Gastronomical Me (North Point Press, 1989).
John McPhee Giving Good Weight (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994).
Ruth Reichl Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise (Penguin, 2006).

Patrick Barber

Things I’m reading:

Eula Biss Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays (Greywolf, 2009): I’m about halfway through this book of essays. Biss is a young (white) woman who writes about her experiences wtih race in America, using a blunt instrument for a pen. A brilliant, infuriating book. Probably not the best for the beach — you’ll get all worked up, and someone will ask you what you’re reading, and you’ll get into a conversation that might not end so well. But read it.

Kyle Gann No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage’s “4’33″” (Yale University Press, 2010): A fun, easygoing bio of Cage that pretends to be an indepth analysis of his most notorious piece. Possibly the only book about John Cage that could really qualify as “light reading.” If you’re curious about Cage, this is an ideal book to start with; then again, I’ve read almost all the Cage literature out there and I’m enjoying it too.

Terry Teachout Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009): A thoroughly enjoyable biography of Louis Armstrong. One of those bios that is as much about the time and place as it is about the person. Teachout’s an excellent writer; he keeps the story moving along at a pleasant clip, and he’s talented at describing music as well.

In the pile to read this summer:

Robin D.G. Kelley Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of An American Original (Free Press, 2009).

Wendell Berry Bringing it to the Table: Writings on Farming and Food (Counterpoint Press, 2009).

Stieg Larsson The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Knopf, 2010).

Things not to read this summer:

Michael Davis Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street (Penguin, 2009): How could a book about Sesame Street be dead boring? I guess in that way it’s something of an accomplishment. I gave up at about page 50, exasperated by yet another immigration tale of another Sesame Street founder’s great-great-grandfather. Seriously.

Juliana Hatfield When I Grow Up: A Memoir (Wiley, 2008): Ms. Hatfield provided some ’90s nostalgia and some inner-sanctum insight into the indie-rock world of that time, but mostly this book is like listening to your self-deprecating roommate talk shit on herself ad nauseam.

Jon McGregor Even the Dogs (Bloomsbury USA): An experimental novel, with the results of the experiment being not very good. One of those books that makes you wonder what was so wrong with the story that the author couldn’t just fucking tell it. Because it seemed like a good story; at least, what I could see of it.

Dave Allen

Paul Auster Invisible (Picador, 2010).
David Lipsky Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace (Broadway, 2010).
Roberto Bolaño Antwerp (New Directions, 2010).

Howard Bloom

No light reading this summer. I’m following up the current Bloom book, The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism (Prometheus, 2009), with a book that asks a simple question: How does the cosmos create?

So, in addition to reading books with too many incomprehensible words and too few worthwhile insights (books that purport to pursue big thoughts, but do it in the standard manner of academic self-deception), I’m resorting to another way of reading.  I’m plundering the original works of people like Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Dreisch, von Baer, Herbert Spencer, Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein, Deleuze, Chomsky, and a mess of others.  Doing it using Google book search to see what these guys have said about roughly three dozen core problems in cosmic creativity.

The delight of this hunt has turned out to be Paul Davies, the only one who actually poses the problem of how an inanimate cosmos pulls off what we used to think only gods could do–inventing everything from time and space to pornography and cigarettes. Try Davies’ The Cosmic Blueprint: New Discoveries in Nature’s Creative Ability to Order (Templeton Foundation Press, 2004) and The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life? (Mariner Books, 2008).

And try a book that both Paul and I are in, along with Daniel Dennett, Susan Blackmore, Seth Shostak, and James Gardner, NASA’s Cosmos and Culture: Cultural Evolution in a Cosmic Context (NASA, 2010; also available as a free download) Hey, for reading that goes fast, is sweet and tasty, but delivers a big wallop, a creamola of insights, try my Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism, and let me know what you think of it.

However if you prefer playing video games to plowing through a thousand pages of Joyce’s Odesseus and falling out of your beach chair with periodic bouts of sleep, I highly recommend the Google Book Search e-approach, deep dives into the minds of philosophers you would normally never think of sampling between games of badminton.

Paul D. Miller a.k.a DJ Spooky

John Brunner Stand on Zanzibar (Centipede Press, 2010).

Philip K. Dick (Author), Tony Parker (Illustrator), and Bill Sienkiewicz (Illustrator) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Comic) (Boom! Studios, 2009).

Cory Doctorow For The Win (Tor Teen, 2010).

Bruce Mau and David Rockwell Spectacle (Phaidon, 2006).

Jeff Chang Total Chaos (Basic Civitas, 2007).

Ian Bogost

Claude S. Fischer Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character (University of Chicago Press, 2010): I’ve already finished this one by UC Berkeley sociologist Fischer, whose earlier book America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940 (University of California Press, 1994), I very much enjoyed. Fischer mounts a simple argument with broad consequences: the fundamental character of America, he argues, is not individualism but voluntarism. A good read, and don’t be scared off by its size: literally half of its 560 pages are notes and references.

David Okuefuna The Dawn of the Color Photograph: Albert Kahn’s Archives of the Planet (Princeton University Press, 2008): I suppose this isn’t a book one reads, but so be it. Albert Kahn was a 19th century business magnate who became a fan of autochrome, an early method of color plate photography invented before 1910. Kahn traveled the world taking color photographs of scenes that appear deeply unfamiliar when rendered in color.

Alastair Gordon Naked Airport: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Revolutionary Structure (University of Chicago Press, 2008): As someone who travels a lot, I’ve become obsessed with air travel, and I enjoy the occasional book on the subject. This one isn’t new, but it’s new to me. In a see of architectural picture books, Gordon’s promises a real history, not just a set of nostalgic images.

Isabelle Stengers Cosmopolitics I (University of Minnesota Press, 2010): Stengers’s Cosmopolitiques is finally appearing in English this summer. It’s an expansion of her argument in The Invention of Modern Science (University of Minnesota Press, 2000), in which she continues to develop a de-objectivization of science while still treating it with a respect that many cultural theorists haven’t done. This is one of those situations in which I shouldn’t admit not having read it yet in French, but indeed I haven’t. Anyway, the “I” refers to the fact that the 650-page French edition was published in two volumes, and apparently the English will be too.

Roberto Bolaño The Return (Harper, 2010): Another summer release, this is Chris Andrews’s translation of the short stories that didn’t appear in his rendition of Last Evenings on Earth (New Directions, 2007). While I’ve read The Savage Detectives (Picador, 2008), I’ll admit that I still haven’t tackled 2666, and this summer won’t be the season for it, once again.

Iain Thomson Heidegger on Ontotheology: Technology and the Politics of Education (Cambridge University Press, 2005): Partway through, I can say with some certainty that this is a book anyone reading Heidegger’s famous essay on “The Question Concerning Technology” for the first time or the fiftieth should also read.

Timothy Morton The Ecological Thought (Harvard University Press, 2010): I’m looking forward to Morton’s short book on the interconnectedness of life. Here’s the key sentence from the blurb: “This interconnectedness penetrates all dimensions of life. No being, construct, or object can exist independently from the ecological entanglement.” I suspect I’ll be annoyed that only “life” gets interconnection.

Peter Lunenfeld

For me, summer always means the chance to read fiction, and I’ve got a few in hand that I’m really looking forward to.

The first is Dan Clowes’ graphic novel, Wilson (Drawn & Quarterly, 2010). Clowes is one of the great storytellers of our age, in any medium. Ghost World (Fantagraphics, 2001) and David Boring (Pantheon, 2002) were serialized in his comic Eightball, but Wilson is his first to be published in book form first. The main character — Wilson, natch — is one of the most repellent figures to emerge from Clowes’ misanthropic imagination in years, but the intricacy of the story’s construction, and the deft intertwining of its visual styles, is such that the book becomes a meditation on aging, and the unworthiness of keeping self apart from others.

Another episodic read comes from first time novelist Tom Rachman. Drawing on his experiences as a foreign correspondent in Italy for the Associated Press, and editor at the Paris-based International Herald Tribune, Rachman has written The Imperfectionists (The Dial Press, 2010) about an English-language newspaper based in Rome, and the decidedly motley collection of expat writers, editors, freelancers investors, and even readers it attracts over a half century’s run.

Miguel Syjuco’s Ilustrado (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010) also investigates what happens to the imagination when it becomes expatriated, but from the vantage point of leaving the Philippines for New York City. A saga covering family and dynastic aspirations over four generations and nearly a century and a half of Philippine history, Ilustrado won the 2008 Man Asian Literary prize before it was even published. We’ll see if it lives up to the hype.

As ever, I pick one big book for the summer. It’s usually non-fiction, but this year it will be Europe Central by William T. Vollman (Penguin, 2005). I suppose I am like every other writer in America, and perhaps the whole world, in my mix of stunned envy and blank incomprehension at how Vollman manages to publish so much and across such a range of genres. Illustrated travelogues like Imperial (Viking Adult, 2009), a seven volume history of violence, essays on femininity and Noh theater in Japan, a series of interviews with poor people about “poor people,” a memoir about hopping trains, the list just goes on and on and on. To be honest I’ve dipped in and out of his books overt the years and never really caught the bug. I’m hoping Europe Central, his twelfth novel – twelfth novel for god’s sake – will be the one to do it for me, with its weaving of personages real and imaginary splaying out from a literary exegesis of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s ill-fated and fantastically cruel invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

Switching over to non-fiction, I’ll be finishing Optical Media (Polity, 2010) by Friedrich Kittler. I started it early this Spring when it came out from Polity, but then teaching and editing and everything else hit, keeping me from finishing this flawed but interesting record of Kittler’s thoughts about media captured a decade ago in his public lectures at Humboldt University in Berlin. Kittler is brilliant as ever about the technical aspects of media, but his fixation on the materialities of production and consumption, and diminutions of the “so-called humans” who actually make and consume photography, film, television, and digital media makes this a theory that’s too much apparatus and not enough dispositif.

No worries about that in Graham Robb’s Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris (W. W. Norton & Co, 2010), because people are at the heart of this book. Robb, a renowned biographer of figures like Balzac, Hugo, and Rimbaud, has written a series of intersecting portraits of the famous, infamous, and forgotten residents of a great city over the past two centuries. I’m embarking on an alternative, connectionist history of Los Angeles’s art and cultural life, and so I’m hoping that Robb’s book can offer some hints about how to bring the urban scene to life in all its idiosyncrasies.

Erik Davis

Robert Love The Great Oom: the Improbable Birth of Yoga in America (Viking, 2010): Today I just dipped my toes into this recent biography of one of our greatest unsung American flim-flam saints: Pierre Bernard, a Midwest-by-San Fran-by-New York yoga entrepreneur whose dalliances and popularity made him a familiar figure on the scandal pages of the 1920s. Though a lover of the benjamins, Bernard also knew his mystical shit, and did more than anyone at the time to found an American ethos of hatha yoga as well as a kind of pragmatic and glamorous western “Tantra.” I can’t wait to dive into the deep end of this juicy and meticulously researched record of hedonic trickster spirituality, Yankee-style.

Steve Goodman Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect and the Ecology of Fear (The MIT Press, 2010): My favorite book of Deleuzian technocultural criticism since Manuel De Landa’s War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (Zone Books, 1991), Goodman’s dense, imaginative, and incredibly carefully written book presents a kind of psycho-geography of sound in our era of claustrophobic militaristic chaos and affect control. Without ever straying into theory bullshit, Goodman thinks hard and—thankfully for the reader—pares his posthuman forays into Whitehead, Kittler, and Spinoza with concrete details about specific sonic arts and technologies—dub, Muzak, noise weapons, the “planet of drums” that accompanies Mike Davis’s “planet of slums.” By approaching music in terms of actual vibration, Goodman leapfrogs beyond cultural criticism and enters a disturbing but deeply illuminating space of posthuman psycho-physiological dynamics.

Jeffrey Kripal Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred (University of Chicago Press, 2010): Though one of America’s best scholars of contemporary religion, Kripal writes from his own passion and experience as well as his considerable knowledge. In this very readable and—especially for an academic—daring book, he looks at four writers who demonstrate how the modern experience of the paranormal—from prophetic dreams to UFOs—overlap the more traditional domains of the sacred. Reading this I discovered a great deal about the undersung Frederic Myers, a fascinating Brit who cofounded the Society for Psychical Research; Charles Fort and Jacques Vallee were well-known to me, and delightful to read about in a serious (but playful) scholarly context. But Bertrand Méheust, an outsider intellect whose many works of Ufology and related studies remain largely untranslated, was a revelation.

Dale Pendell The Great Bay: Chronicles of the Collapse (North Atlantic Books, 2010): I wasn’t sure Pendell could take his considerable skills as a poet and entheogenic scholar-shaman in the direction of fiction, but The Great Bay is a wonderful addition to the subgenre of post-apocalyptic novels set in California. Covering thousands of years with excerpts from diaries, letters, and encyclopedic overviews, Pendell manages to communicate a wry earth wisdom and pragmatic DIY optimism about the big bummer that may very well lie ahead. Moreover, by covering millennia rather than follow the same characters from start to finish, he reframes the novel as a “long now” experiment that widens our perspective beyond the confines of contemporary human identity and reminds us that whatever happens, the earth and its creatures will keep spinning along.

Steven Shaviro

Bret Easton Ellis Imperial Bedrooms (Knopf, 2010): Ellis is one of the most talked-about of all contemporary American novelists, yet also paradoxically one of the most underrated. He’s notorious (for the violence in his books, and for his apparent partying lifestyle) rather than respected as a writer. Nonetheless, I think that Ellis is a master: a brilliantly literary novelist, and a dark visionary of the American nightmare. All of his books are amazingly strange concoctions of elements that shouldn’t be able to mesh together, and yet somehow do: minimalism, horror, deadpan humor, social satire, and anomie. His new book — just published — takes a look at the characters of his very first book, Less Than Zero. twenty-five years later. What will become of these vapid, cynical, spoiled, and obscenely rich drifters, now that they are approaching middle age?

China Miéville Kraken (Del Rey, 2010): With his brilliantly inventive, richly packed novels, China Miéville is our foremost practitioner of “dark urban fantasy,” or of what has come to be called the New Weird. His books deliciously indulge in the fantastic, while at the same time criticizing the cliches and rightwing ideologies that are all-too-frequently endemic to the genre. Think of Miéville as the anti-Toliken, or as H. P. Lovecraft updated for the new century. His new novel (to be published at the end of June) is apparently set in contemporary London, rather than in the entirely fantastic landscapes of much of his earlier work; but it promises urban underworlds, dueling magical factions, and tentacle horror.

Matt Fraction Casanova (Image Comics, 2010): Matt Fraction is one of the most interesting and inventive comics writers working today. He’s best known for his work for Marvel Comics (Iron Man, X-Men, and soon Thor as well); but his best work comes in Casanova, a creator-owned title. This is a reboot for the series, combining previously-published material (but now in full color instead of monochrome) with entirely new stories. Imagine a 1960s spy-movie hero (James Bond, Matt Helm, Derek Flint) as reimagined by some crazed combination of Jorge Luis Borges, Groucho Marx, and Quentin Tarantino. Great illustrations, too, by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon.

Jane Bennett Vibrant Matter (Duke University Press, 2010): Political theorist Bennett asks us to reject our standard oppositions between human and nonhuman, culture and nature, subjects and objects, people and things. For even worms, plastic bottles, and scraps of metal are “strangely vital,” active and assertive, possessing their own degrees of agency and force. Rejecting the idea that mere matter is passive and inert, Bennett calls instead for a “vital materialism,” an outlook that recognizes how human beings are not separate from nature, but intertwined with nonhuman beings and with “vibrant materials of all sorts.” Bennett’s book is at once philosophically profound, and written in an open, engaging, and highly accessible style. This is new thought for the new millennium.

Deborah M. Gordon Ant Encounters: Interaction Networks and Colony Behavior (Princeton University Press, 2010): This short book, by a leading entomologist, summarizes much of what we know about ants, and how they live and work. The ants and other social insects are among the most successful organisms in the world today. Ant colonies do not have hierarchies or chains of command, and yet they engage in extremely sophisticated emergent behavior. Gordon’s beautiful presentation is fascinating on its own account, as a description the sheer weirdness and beauty of ant life and behavior. But it is also exemplary, and of broader interest, for anybody who wants to know more about emergence and self-organizing systems.

Roy Christopher

The three most subtle and interesting books I’ve read lately are Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space (Beacon Press, 1994), Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life (University of California Press, 2002), and John Durham Peters’ Speaking into the Air. These, which continue to give me hours of inspiration, comprise my trio of strong recommendations for the summer.

Like Nancy above, I’m also eager to read Daniel Levitin’s This is Your Brain on Music, as well as some recent releases like Richard Florida’s The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity (Harper, 2010), and Daniel Pink‘s Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us (Riverhead, 2010). I’m also eager to get into the current debate on neuroplasticity and the web. To that end, I’m reading Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (W. W. Norton & Co, 2010) and Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (Penguin, 2010), the latter of which I hope is more insightful than everything I’ve read about it so far.

Then there are these ones:

Hillel Schwartz The Culture of the Copy: Striking Likenesses, Unreasonable Facsimiles (Zone Books, 1996): In light of our culture’s shift from bits to atoms, the concept of a “copy” is shifting as well. The 600+ pages of Schwartz’s book explore the history of the idea from every angle imaginable.

Linda Hutcheon A Theory of Adaptation (Routledge, 2006): Adaptation is not only the name of the trainwreck Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman film, but also the process problematized by that film. Hutcheon illustrates its uniqueness from and its place among other constructs of intertextuality (e.g., allusion, paraphrase, parody, etc.), as well as how pervasive it is in our current culture.

Régis Debray Media Manifestos (Verso, 1996): Michael Schandorf, whose own list is above, sent me the tip on this one. I’ve only perused it so far, but I can tell that Debray’s “mediology” will worm its way into my own writing in the area. The same goes for Herman Rapaport’s Between the Sign and the Gaze (Cornell University Press, 1994), especially his last chapter on Laurie Anderson’s United States.

N. Katherine Hayles How We Became Posthuman (University of Chicago Press, 1999): I’ve been rereading all of Kate Hayles’ books (e.g., My Mother Was a Computer, Writing Machines, Chaos and Order, Chaos Bound, etc.), and this one is well worth revisiting if you haven’t in a while or reading if you haven’t. The title is a bit misleading: Hayles uses the word “posthuman” to refer to what I’ve called the externalization of human knowledge. Her book follows this externalization from early computer history through cybernetics and autopoiesis to literature. It’s a ride as enlightening as it is wild.