Summer Reading List, 2018

There has never been a better time to get off-line, soothe your spirit, and build your brain with a stack of books. We’re back again with reading recommendations for just that. This year, our 15th, we have ideas from newcomers Nisi Shawl, Veronica Fitzpatrick, and Penni Jones, as well as the return of Rick Moody, Douglas Rushkoff, Cynthia Connolly, André Carrington, Matthew Kirschenbaum, Zizi Papacharissi, Jussi Parikka, Peter Lunenfeld, Joseph Nechvatal, Lily Brewer, Dominic Pettman, Paul Levinson, Brian Tunney, Mike Daily, Paul D. Miller, Alex Burns, and myself. We know what you’ll read this summer!

As ever, the book links below lead to the title at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, the best bookstore on the planet. Read on!

Veronica Fitzpatrick

“Summer reading” will forever conjure the halcyon months after I graduated college. Condensed milk lattes and serial killers; my metabolism may have changed but my taste in therapeutic pleasure reading is evergreen.

I just reread The Likeness (Penguin, 2009), the second of Tana French’s Dublin murder squad novels. The series is literary catnip for international police procedural enthusiasts, but the real draw is French’s focus on the intimacy and perceptual acuity of detection. Her books are populated with eyebrow hitches and side-cut glances, all the little ways people read each other and give themselves away. This one is about a doomed undercover op set among reclusive The Secret History-style grad students—thus my favorite, and a fine place to start.

Before that was Sally Rooney’s  Conversations with Friends (Hogarth, 2017), the merits of which are hard to describe without sounding unduly condescending (“more than the sum of its parts!”). If the premise of an affair seems simple, and the prose style minimal (plus texting transcripts), Conversations is plenty complex and abundant in original insights re: interiority, hooking up, and radical politics, plus it’s a real, rare pleasure to read young women described and describable as wielding “a remorseless intelligence.”

I fell for Antonia Quirke via this essay on Antigua in CN Traveller and was floored to learn she’s primarily a film critic. Choking on Marlon Brando: A Film Critic’s Memoir About Love and the Movies (The Overlook Press, 2007) chronicles Quirke’s life through her near-spiritual devotion to specific actors; a terrific, weird example of writing about performance that celebrates the horniness at the heart of cinephilia.

Finally: the only book(s) adjacent to travel I want to read are L.S. Hilton’s Maestra series (so far Maestra [Putnam, 2016] and Domina [Putnam, 2017]), which follow a young female sociopath with an extensive art history education and impeccable style, sort of American Psycho on the Rome leg of Eat, Pray, Love with more niche sex clubs. And every coming-of-age novel I picked up in the last year, I read out of the pain of missing Elif Batuman’s romantic Ivy League epic The Idiot (Penguin, 2017).

Joseph Nechvatal

Bernard Stiegler The Neganthropocene (edited and translated by Daniel Ross; Open Humanities Press, 2018): In the essays and lectures here titled Neganthropocene, Stiegler opens an entirely new front moving beyond the dead-end “banality” of the Anthropocene. Stiegler stakes out a battleplan to proceed beyond, indeed shrugging off, the fulfillment of nihilism that the era of climate chaos ushers in.

Maria Stavrinaki Dada Presentism: An Essay on Art and History (Stanford University Press, 2016): Dada is often celebrated for its strategies of shock and opposition, but in Dada Presentism, Maria Stavrinaki provides a new picture of Dada art and writings as a lucid reflection on history and the role of art within it.

Jonathan Fineberg Modern Art at the Border of Mind (University of Nebraska Press, 2015): Modern Art at the Border of Mind and Brain is a broad investigation by one of the foremost scholars of modern art of the relationship between modern art and the structure of the mind and brain. Based on Fineberg’s Presidential Lectures at the University of Nebraska, this book examines the relationship between artistic production, neuroscience, and the way we make meaning in form.

André M. Carrington

I have such a delightful summer and fall lined up that I’m feeling a great deal of gratitude. I expect some of the things I’m going to read will reinforce that feeling. As usual, my habits are geared toward nonfiction:

Madison Moore Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric (Yale University Press, 2018): A stunner by a wonderful, brilliant friend & colleague.

Jenifer Lewis The Mother of Black Hollywood (Amistad, 2017): I bought this in audiobook format, because I love her voice. From interviews, I think this will be a truly humbling and inspiring read about her extraordinary career and the challenges she’s faced with bipolar disorder.

Riley Snorton Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity (University of Minnesota Press, 2017): Winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Nonfiction!

Mamadou Dia 3052: Persiguiendo un Sueño (Hahatay, 2017): The story of the author’s life from Senegal to Spain. Every couple years, I try my best to make it through a book in Spanish; this one, recommended by my esteemed colleague Dr. Jeffrey Coleman, is a little hard to find stateside, so I might have to take a field trip.

Douglas Rushkoff

James Bridle New Dark Age (Verso, 2018): Exposes the myth that quantifiable data can provide a coherent model of the world.

David Lynch Catching the Big Fish (TarcherPerigee, 2006): David Lynch (director of Twin Peaks and many great movies) shares why mediation is so important and how to access the unified field.

Jason Louv John Dee and the Empire of Angels (Inner Traditions, 2018): Jason Louv, world’s leading expert on Enochian magic, reveals the occult roots of the British Empire, and our own.

Nisi Shawl

Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow (Tor, 2017), is an audaciously optimistic near-future book about immortality and consensus. Also beer, massages, and anarchy.

The Dreamquest of Vellitt Boe (Tor, 2016) is arch-storyteller Kij Johnson’s feminist take on Lovecraftian fantasy, with bonus cat.

The Good House (Washington Square Press, 2004) is prime Tananarive Due. It’s horror, but of the redemptive sort, and deals with a particularly African American issue: the violent deaths of our young men.

Elysium, by Jennifer Marie Brisset (Aqueduct Press, 2014), is a gorgeously elegiac tale of love and planetary cleansing, told in cleverly overlapping narratives that gradually reveal what has been saved and lost over the numberless eons covered. It’s a swift read, but a deep one.

A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar (Small Beer Press, 2013), is a nearly perfect sojourn in an imaginary land. It reminds me very much of early Ursula K. Le Guin.

Rick Moody

I have been reading a lot of poetry recently, in part because I have been co-teaching a class at Brown called Writers on Writing that’s half prose and half poetry. I taught this course in the spring with the poet Sawako Nakayasu, whose book The Ants (Les Figues Press, 2014) would be on any list of contemporary collections I really love. (It’s about ants!) In the fall I’m teaching with the excellent Monica de la Torre, whose Public Domain (Roof Books, 2008) is likewise a contemporary poetry must-read.

Whereas, by Layli Long Soldier (Graywolf Press, 2017) was the last book we read for class in the spring, and I’m still thinking it through. It’s sort of half experimental poetry, half incredibly powerful and moving critique of official governmental responses to the treatment of indigenous peoples in the United States of America. The experimental part demonstrates the struggle of First Peoples to deal with the oppressor tongue of American culture in a way that seems unique to me. What a great and powerful book.

Don Mee Choi’s Hardly War (Wave Books, 2016) came to my attention through Monica, and it is in part about Don Mee Choi’s father’s photographs of wars and conflicts in Southeast Asia. (The author is Korean, but her father, as a photographer, ranged as far as Cambodia, as I understand the story so far.) Photos are included in the text. Again, there’s a mixture of poetical methods here, far more than in a conventionally “confessional” work. The poems are sly, funny, devastating. Don Mee Choi’s voice is a knowing, tragic, and comic thing that orbits around the work in ways that deepen and complexify the field of investigation.

David Grubbs is my friend and occasional collaborator (and I can’t overlook to mentioned his first book, a work of criticism called Records Ruin the Landscape [Duke University Press, 2014] that I admire a great deal), and an unparalleled musician, above all, but his first book of “poetry” is now out, a book-length prose poem called Now That the Audience is Assembled (Duke University Press, 2018), which is sort of a long meditation on experimental music making and the ekphrastic route through which one might describe such an endeavor. I have used quotation marks to describe the work as “poetry” simply because I think there’s such a great area of hybrid activity between prose and poetry these days that things that people are describing as poems to me are also very conventionally be understood as “prose” as well. Grubbs’s book might also be understood as music! It’s an incredibly promising and funny first imaginative work by an artist who seems able to produce in almost any medium.

Penni Jones

Mark Haskell Smith Blown (Grove Press, Black Cat, 2018): I’ve been a big fan of Mark Haskell Smith for about eleven years. His novels are clever and fun, with one-word titles packed with innuendo. His protagonists are often regular folks who find themselves plunged into worlds where they don’t belong. The stakes are high and the outcomes are hilariously subversive.

Ariel Gore We Were Witches (Amethyst Editions, 2017): Gore’s raw honesty while challenging the status quo is enlightening and inspirational. Her latest release is a “memoirist-novel” that draws on her experience as a struggling artist and single teenage mother in a time when the phrase “family values” was synonymous with women like her being demoralized and demonized.

Christopher Buckley No Way to Treat a First Lady (Random House, 2002): I read several of Buckley’s political satire novels in rapid succession of seeing the movie Thank You for Smoking which was based on his 1994 novel of the same title. Somehow I missed No Way to Treat a First Lady, which is about a United States first lady on trial for murdering her philandering husband. For some reason the plot is very attractive to me right now.

Alexandra Sokoloff Stealing Hollywood (Amazon Digital Services, 2015): This book is meant to arm authors with screenwriting tricks that will strengthen and simplify novel writing. Is it too good to be true? I’ll let you know.

Charles Salzberg Second Story Man (Down & Out Books, 2018): If Salzberg’s previous works are any indication, this novel won’t disappoint. Second Story Man is a crime caper with alternating points-of-view between two lawmen and a master burglar. The criminal taunts the men who are hunting him as the stakes grow higher. Sounds like the perfect beach read to me!

Paul Levinson

I’m writing at least half a dozen things right now, with no time for reading, but here are three recommendations, all fiction, of books I’ve recently finished and much enjoyed:

Peter Watts’ The Freeze-Frame Revolution (Tachyon) was [is due to be] officially published on June 12, but I was fortunate to get an advance copy. Watts is a gifted science fiction writer, with a knack for combining disparate threads of science rooted in hard-as-nails science, and he does this par excellence in his latest novel. This time it’s far-future humans far away from Earth, in a tense web woven of AI, biology, cyberpunk in the flesh and robots with music. Not only that, the novel is just 192 pages.

Heather, the Totality (Little, Brown, 2017) is also short – 134 pages – and is written by someone, Matthew Weiner, whose work you may well know in a very different medium, television. Weiner brings the same incisive understanding of the underside of human nature he brought to The Sopranos and Mad Men to this explosive little novel, which sports only one line of actual dialog. What’s it about it? Here’s what I’ll tell you: A few months ago, I noticed a guy eyeing a woman in a supermarket parking lot. It happened very quickly, and I stayed in my car until the woman got safely into hers and drove away. As I drove back on the highway, I realized there was something, I don’t know, really angry in his gaze, certainly more than just appreciation. That’s the ignition point for Heather, when her Manhattan father notices a construction worker ogling his 14-year old daughter.

And I’ll complete this triad by highly recommending for your summer reading pleasure Come Out Tonight by Bonnie Rozanksi (Amazon Digital Services, 2011; whose The Mind Traveler appeared on my list last year). This one’s not that short – more than 200 pages – and every page is worth reading. It’s mostly a police mystery, with a dash of science fiction, when a top-notch researcher working on a powerful new sleeping aid is savagely assaulted and left in a vegetative state. Her boyfriend, her father, and all manner of suspects abound, and Rozanski brings her unerring eye for New York detail to this story, noting how, after a subway car pulls out of Grand Central, it “futzes around” for a few minutes. Don’t futz around regarding this novel — snap it up!

Lily Brewer

Ordinarily, when invited to contribute to my husband’s famed Summer Reading List, I include more books, more force, more flourish; this summer, in between and during stops on my way to L.A. through Reno from Houston for my yearly research and exhibition road trip in preparation for my dissertation, my list becomes shorter and shorter. This is that short list.

This summer I have been and will continue to read Unthinking Mastery by Julietta Singh (Duke University Press, 2018) and Decolonizing Dialects by George Ciccariello-Maher (Duke University Press, 2017); Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis (Haymarket, 2016) and How We Get Free by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (Haymarket, 2017); Supercommunity: Diabolical Togetherness Beyond Contemporary Art edited by Lulieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, and Anton Vidokle (Verso, 2017). I also continue to wait as patiently as possible for Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin’s next couple books in their series Intercalations–Decapitated Economies and These Birds of Temptation–for K. Verlag at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. Every day I still think, the word for world is still forest.

Matthew Kirschenbaum

My immediate reading right now is Johanna Drucker’s The General Theory of Social Relativity (The Elephants, 2018). Drucker will be known to some as a book artist, to others as a scholar of modernist art, to still others as a leading figure in the digital humanities community. Here, however, in this short chapbook, she is a diagnostician of the contemporary public sphere. Heady title notwithstanding, Drucker’s focus is squarely on the everyday of our collective media and discourse, both united under the rubric of what she terms aesthetics. Like other writers (Angela Nagle, #recentcontroversiesdulynoted) she seeks to dismantle the notion that there is anything inherently progressive in art or aesthetics, or that associated leftist tactics can in any simple, causal, or mechanistic way constitute a “resistance.” Instead, Drucker turns toward an account of cultural phenomena as “extrusions” or “manifestations” of our swirling, affective engagement with an all-consuming and resolutely non-partisan media spectrum. The key term to emerge here is the phantasmatic: no mere simulacrum, but the metastasizing of meme into reality fabric. In this there are also sympathies with the “eversion” hypothesis, a word William Gibson first introduced in Spook Country (Penguin/Viking, 2007) to describe the virtual’s quotidian intrusion into the real world, so-called. Likewise, Drucker offers a direct critique of digital dualism, the notion that what’s on our screens is somehow less real than our (somehow?) more authentic analog surroundings. By contrast, screen and the everyday now co-constitute the real, held together by the quantum gel of the social, presented here not as relation but as medium, a medium which one doesn’t have to be Einstein to see the Commander-in-Cheese has mastered. (Don’t like the thought of quantum gel? Call it covfefe instead.) This one is essential, folks.

Following the Drucker, my next project will likely be Justin Joque’s Deconstruction Machines: Writing in the Age of Cyberwar (University of Minnesota Press, 2018). I mean, come on, Justin, you had me at deconstruction, machines, writing, and cyberwar! Starting with the brute-simple observation that what contemporary militaries dub cyberwar or netwar is carried via malignant computer code—which is to say texts that literally take things apart (think Stuxnet)—Joque asks what it means to entertain the weaponization of a philosophy, namely the book’s titular deconstruction. Also on deck are a brace of books from the MIT Press’s Essential Knowledge series, Nick Montfort’s The Future (2017) and Amaranth Borsuk’s The Book (2018).These entries are intended to provide fast and accessible but critically engaged introductions to a topic; still, the secret (don’t tell) is that one reads such books at least as much for their author as for their individual subject matter, and such is the case here. Tar for Mortar (Punctum Books, 2018), meanwhile, is still another short chapbook, Jonathan Basile’s archaeology of Borges’s multitudinous Library of Babel (Basile having also programmed a computer simulation of same). Speaking of multitudes, Chicago’s Interacting with Print (2018) volume bills itself as a multigraph: a monograph-length book collectively authored by some two dozen leading scholars of nineteenth century print culture and book history, composed with a wiki so as to interleave their expert voices rather than produce the standard edited collection. Finally, my colleague Tita Chico’s monograph The Experimental Imagination just out from Stanford, offers a historicized account of the entanglement of literature and science during the Enlightenment, a period when (she argues) the language of the one co-created the discourse of the other—a story that is all the more relevant now that the science wars have been phantasmatically mobilized.

Dominic Pettman

I’m trying to catch up on some old school uncanny lit this Summer, so have cued up:

Robert Aickman The Late Breafkasters and Other Strange Stories (Valancourt Books, 2016): “Philip Larkin or Barbara Pym, gone eldritch,” according to the New Yorker.

Edith Wharton The Ghost-Feeler (Peter Owen Publishers, 2002)

Herbert Read The Green Child (New Directions, 2013)

Elizabeth Hand Wylding Hall (PS Publishing, 2015)

I’m also looking forward to:

Antonio Lobo Antunes The Land at the End of the World (W.W. Norton & Co., 2012)

Sylvia Wynter On Being Human As Praxis (Duke University Press, 2015)

Jeff Dolven Senses of Style: Poetry Before Interpretaion (University of Chicago Press, 2018)

Eugene Thacker Infinite Resignation: On Pessimism (Repeater Books, 2018)

Catherine Millot Life with Lacan (Polity, 2018)

Rhian Jones and Eli Davies, Editors Under My Thumb: Songs That Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them (Repeater Books, 2017)

Jussi Parikka

This summer I am returning to a book that has been reissued. Giuliana Bruno’s Atlas of Emotion came out in 2002 but was out of print for a long period, and Verso has now republished it. Bruno’s work is a great example of the methodological innovation that I also read as inspiring “media archaeological” work: moving across art history, architecture and built environments, gender, cinema and many other contexts. And it is beautifully written. This time round I am reading it in a specific context of (media) archaeologies of fashion, which relates to our AHRC-funded project on the fashion film.

Another inspiring scholar, Matthew Fuller, has a new book out on sleep (How to Sleep: The Art, Biology and Culture of Unconsciousness; Bloomsbury Academic, 2018). Jonathan Crary’s 24/7 (Verso, 2014) came out some years ago, but Fuller’s book is clearly following the same footsteps and has opens up with this wonderful outline of the book’s aim: “Sleep is quite a popular activity, indeed most humans spend around a third of their lives asleep. However, cultural, political, or aesthetic thought tends to remain concerned with the interpretation and actions of those who are awake.”

David Parisi’s Archaeologies of Touch (University of Minnesota Press, 2018) is also on my reading list in the pile of books unofficially labelled “things media archaeological” – also Susan Murray’s new book on the history of the color television – Bright Signals (Duke University Press, 2018) — can be broadly said to belong to the same category of interesting takes that deal with media history, perception and technicity.

I am reading Joanna Zylinska’s Nonhuman Photography (MIT Press, 2017) too as I am in the midst of preparing a project proposal on Operative Images. Eric Alliez and Maurizio Lazzarato’s book War and Capital (Semiotext(e), 2018) arrived recently in the mail and is one of the books I aspire to read. In order to understand contemporary capitalism, one studies it as a military operation. Next one on my reading list is Janine Marchessault’s Ecstatic Worlds: Media, Utopias, Ecologies (MIT Press, 2017) that came out last year already but I am a bit late to reading it. Besides being interested in what it says about ecology and the Cold War, I think it might have good points useful for our Lab Book project, a book about humanities and media labs that in many ways go back to the Cold War (as a forthcoming book by Ryan Bishop and John Beck argues well). And today I learned that the English translation of Markus Krajewski’s The Server (Yale University Press, 2018) is out. Translated by Ilinca Iurascu, the book is one key reference point in the German cultural techniques literature and outlines a cultural history of servantry from the technological point of view too.

Zizi Papacharissi

This summer I have five books out. So, I will happily be spending time away from books, computers, and reading.

But, here’s what I read in the process, and highly recommend:

Rod Hart Civic Hope:How Ordinary Americans Keep Democracy Alive (Cambridge University Press, 2018): A prescient analysis of letters to the editor, dating back to the fifties. Reminds how much and how little, at the same time, things have changed in politics. Beautifully written; a love letter to democracy.

Svetlana Boym The Future of Nostalgia (Basic Books, 2002) Perhaps you read this when it first came out. Reread and realize how every idea of yours you thought original, she wrote about decades ago.

Jessa Lingel Digital Countercultures and the Struggle for Community (MIT Press, 2017): This is, above all, a modern book. If Dick Hebdige wrote Subculture: The Meaning of Style (Routledge, 1979) today, this is what it would read like.

Brian Tunney

Chris Nashawaty Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story (Flatiron Books, 2018): My father has this strange Rodney Dangerfield as cartoon character statue in his house that speaks some of his most infamous lines. Amid piles of CDs and videos, old assortments and antiques, this Rodney Dangerfield animated doll thing stands out as a reminder that my father kinda raised myself and my brothers on Rodney Dangerfield’s comedy and movies. From Easy Money to the long sought after record Rappin’ Rodney, Dangerfield’s character was used as a basis for my father to relate to his sons.

Granted, not the best role model, or traditional form or father-son relations, but it encapsulated something we’re still able to relate on all these years later. I believe that fascination with the comedian began with his appearance in Caddyshack, and to this day, whenever it’s on TV, I pretty much put everything aside and watch it.

Also to this day, it’s quite apparent that the movie makes little to no sense at all. As it would happen, that belief stretches far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. In April 2018, writer Chris Nashawaty released the book Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story, and I quickly read through it within a few days of buying it.

Beginning with the story of National Lampoon magazine, followed by the writing and creation of Animal House, the book tracks the story of the writers and director as they take life experience (and lack thereof), lighting in a bottle moments that featured young comedic legends in the making and all of the behind the scenes mayhem that formed the basis for the movie. I won’t divulge much here, except that I was correct in assuming that the movie makes little to no sense, and that the finished product was the result of editing down a rough four and a half hour cut into something that could be bought and sold in Hollywood.

With the addition of an animatronic gopher, large improvisational bits from Bill Murray and more than few drunken blowups from the cast and staff, the movie ultimately went from critical disaster to earning over $30 million at the box office.

It also pushed a 57-year-old Rodney Dangerfield out of Vegas and into the movie business. Though Dangerfield didn’t think he was funny during the filming of the movie (because the director’s staff couldn’t laugh at him while filming), he went on to foster an odd father-son relationship for myself, my dad and my brothers.

Peter Lunenfeld

Walter Issacson’s Steve Jobs (Simon & Schuster, 2011) is what my kids used to tease me about as a “big fattie” summer read. I’m long overdue to grapple with this book as part of understanding the links between neoliberalism and what I’m calling the California Design Ideology.

As for the rest of the summer, I want to catch up with the recent output of friends and colleagues who I can’t keep up with during the year.

I still need to read rather than browse Johanna Drucker’s Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production (Harvard University Press, 2014) which is just what it sounds like, an analysis of the ways in which how we see affects the ways that we come to know. Johanna came out with not one but two more books in the spring of 2018: Downdrift (Three Rooms Press, 2018) is an eco-fiction that begins with the voice of an Archaean, “the most ancient creature on earth”; The General Theory of Social Relativity (The Elephants, 2018) melds quantum physics with social analysis. Given that I can’t understand how quickly the global polity has deteriorated in the past one thousand days, I’m open to new paradigms.

Todd Presner, David Shepard and Yoh Kawano’s Hypercities: Thick Mapping in the Digital Humanities (Harvard University Press, 2014) joins Jeffrey Schnapp and Matthew Battles’ The Library Beyond the Book (Harvard University Press, 2014) as titles in and around digital humanities that I want to follow as a reminder that ars longa, vita brevis, and that (I hope) certain political winds are briefer still.

Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter’s new book Organization after Social Media (Minor Compositions, 2018) wants us to construct “social technologies based on enduring time” and value action over weak ties. The .01% knows that likes and followers are nice, but what moves the world and the art world (at least right now) is cold, hard cash. Andrea Fraser’s bespoke big data project, 2016 in Museums, Money, and Politics (MIT Press, 2018), is a brick of a book designed by the wonderful Geoff Kaplan. It organizes the deep research that Fraser put in to understand exactly how culture and power intersect by looking in detail at the political contributions by board members at more than 125 of the most important museums showing contemporary art in the United States.

Bruce Sterling’s Pirate Utopia (Tachyon, 2016) also interrogates culture’s tortured relationship with power, but from a deiselpunk perspective, creating an alternative past in which the Futurists take over the Regency of Carnaro to wreck havoc on their enemies. It was a nominee for the 2016 Sidewise Award, Best Short-Form Alternate History. In my alternate history, it won.

Finally, there’s Made Up: Designs Fictions, edited by Tim Durfee and Mimi Zeiger (Actar, 2018), which I’d recommend even if I didn’t have a short piece in it. Caveat lector should be the motto for all summer reading lists, in any case.

Cynthia Connolly

Kevin Starr Inventing the Dream: California through the Progressive Era (Oxford University Press, 1985): Explains how the California I grew up into became what it is today.

Michael Fallon Creating the Future: Art and Los Angeles in the 1970s (Counterpoint, 2014): Explains the various art scenes in LA and how that scene always was considered the bastard child of contemporary art in the eyes of the NY art critiques and beyond. It explains how the landscape and place was a strong influence on the art and for my own life, having grown up in LA, I see how much this scene influenced me, even as a child. It has helped me inform my own artwork.

Spain & Portugal’s Best Trips (Lonely Planet, 2016): Going to Spain and Portugal for some Banned in DC (Sun Dog Propaganda, 1988) talks this fall. Reading this book.

Paul D. Miller

Hassan Blasim, Editor Iraq +100 (Tor, 2017)

Nathan Schneider Everything for Everyone (Nation Books, 2018)

Annalee Newitz Autonomous: A Novel (Tor, 2017)

Cixin Liu Ball Lightning (Head of Zeus, 2018)

Yasha Levine Surveillance Valley (PublicAffairs, 2018)

Michael Pollan How to Change Your Mind (Penguin, 2018)

Richard M. Stallman Free Software, Free Society (Free Software Foundation, 2002)

Mike Daily

Richard Brautigan The Beatles Lyrics Illustrated (Dell, 1975): I found a battered-but-intact reading copy of this paperback for $5.74, shipping included. Richard Brautigan wrote the Introduction, a short story-like piece of brilliancy not published anywhere else. I always knew that someday I’d get into The Beatles. “She Loves You” (B Side: “I’ll Get You”) mesmerized me at seven years old, much. Oh yeah.

Ronen Givony Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (or, The Strange Death of Selling Out) (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018): I can’t recall if it was Blockbuster, Best Buy, or The Wherehouse that had CD baristas in the mid-’90s. You’d bring shrink-wrapped compact discs to the circular bar/listening station, and they’d open ’em for you. How sophisticated! it felt. Elegant. ‘Twas at one of these retail stores that—while reading the lyrics, of course—I first heard 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (Tupelo Communion Conspiracy Theory, 1994) by Jawbreaker. I already knew I needed to own the album. Unfun (Shredder, 1990) and Bivouac (Tupelo, 1992) were often being spun at high volume in my affordable student housing at the time.

Sam Pink The Garbage Times/White Ibis (Soft Skull Press, 2018): I flipped through the pages of my Verified Amazon Purchase. “Wait. What? Soft Skull is European?” I wondered after noticing single quotation marks for the dialogue in both novellas. I checked one of the copyright pages. “New York, NY.” Phew. Binge-read alert x 2. New Sam Pink.

Rob Plath Swallowtude (Epic Rites Press, 2017): New York poet, novelist, photographer, illustrator, and painter Rob Plath knew Allen Ginsberg. Imagine one of your heroes handing you a bowl of beans and telling you simply to eat. Maybe it was soup. Vegan. Ginsberg passed away in ’97, right around the time I stopped following what was happening on the underground poetry scene. Today, university students in Wales are studying Rob Plath’s writing alongside the work of Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Dan Fante (Plath’s unpublished 2014 interview with Dan Fante will be in the September/October issue of UK ‘s esteemed print Magazine, Cold Lips). I’m excited to read his first novel. Signed copy purchased from the author.

Alex Burns

Jane Friedman The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press, 2018): A candid guide to career pathways for (academic) writers, how the publishing industry works, how to build an author platform, the role of entrepreneurship, and diverse money-making strategies. Part of the series Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing.

Annie McClanahan Dead Pledges: Debt, Crisis, and Twenty-First Century Culture (Stanford University Press, 2017): McClanahan is an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Irvine. Austerity and debt have defined the post-2008 socio-economic landscape. This book draws on behavioral economics, cultural analysis, and other disciplines to critically examine the economic, social, and historical transformations in the United States economy – and their impact on contemporary life. Credit, debt, and property speculation now reshape our individual subjectivity: McClanahan contends that these changes are likely to endure in the future.

Arne De Boever Finance Fictions: Realism and Psychosis in a Time of Economic Crisis (Fordham University Press, 2018): De Boever teaches American Studies at the California Institute of the Arts. This book examines how books, film, and other popular culture have communicated to a wider audience the economic realities of the post-2008 world. De Boever finds that black box algorithms have replaced commodities in popular imagination.

Lawrence Creatura Long and Short: Confessions of a Portfolio Manager: Stock Market Wisdom for Investors (Mill City Press, 2015): For fans of SHO’s Billions, Creatura’s book is a series of short, reflective, and practitioner-focused essays on how he achieved ‘alpha’ (excess returns above a benchmark) as a portfolio manager, and what you can learn from some of his mistakes.

David Graeber Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (Simon & Schuster, 2018): Graeber is a Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics who was involved in Occupy Wall Street’s direct action protests. This book expands on Graeber’s 2013 essay “On The Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs” (Strike Magazine) to examine why neoliberal capitalism creates a range of meaningless jobs that its employees know are pointless. Graeber also includes survey responses from international readers on the bullshit jobs they have had to endure, and the creative strategies developed to cope with them.

Roy Christopher

Suzanne Buffam A Pillow Book (Canarium Books, 2016): Full of anecdotes and lists related to pillows and sleep, Buffam’s book is the perfect before-bed meditation. I read this one at night before I sleep, my head appropriately on my pillow.

Hieu Minh Nguyen Not Here (Coffee House Press, 2018): Nguyen balances words on a page with such heart-pounding delicacy, I can only take a few at a time. These poems feel by turns like they will shatter apart or stab you to death. Either way, they’re honed to a deadly point and pointed right at you. It’s as beautiful as it is painful.

Amos Tutuola and Ben Okri: I was doing research on intertextuality, as you do, and I came across a book comparing the work of Nigerian novelist Ben Okri with those of his forebear Amos Tutuola (the auspiciously titled Intertextuality and the Novels of Amos Tutuola and Ben Okri by Durojaiye Owoeye). I decided to take a closer look. I immediately recognized that Brian Eno and David Byrne ganked the title of their 1982 record from Tutuola’s second novel (My Life in the Bush of Ghosts; faber & faber 1954), which I took as annoying but also as further endorsement. I’ve been reading Tutuola’s books as fast as I can find them, and I’m stacking up Okri’s for after (e.g., The Famished Road, Astonishing the Gods, etc.). Someone—not the authors, of course—called this stuff “magical realism,” and I guess that’ll have to do.

Tade Thompson Rosewater (Orbit Books, 2018): Though I’ve been reading a lot of Nigerian literature lately, I didn’t know Tade Thompson was originally from there (He is Yoruba) when I started reading this. The deft way that Rosewater jumps time periods and switches from the actual to the virtual and back is a sure sign that a steady hand is in control. The story is also mind-expanding. It’s cyberpunk, but it’s also so much more. This is the first book of his Wormwood Trilogy, so there’s thankfully more to come.

Susan Lepselter The Resonance of Unseen Things: Poetics, Power, Captivity, and UFOs in the American Uncanny (University of Michigan Press, 2016): I’ve been researching UFOs and alien abductions for the last several years for no reason other than curiosity, and Lepselter brings together nodes I haven’t seen connected in other books on these topics. Using the possible presence of aliens as an avatar for alienations of all kinds: persistent hauntings, captivity stories, conspiracy theories, uncanny memories. In the end, this is not a book about UFOs and things far away. It’s a book about the aliens at home. It’s a book about the United States.

Media Literacy: Curing the Common Code

“Media literacy” is as socially contested a term as they come. Its meaning of has been debated at least as far back as 1933 (see Tyner, 2010).It’s not difficult to make the case that Marshall McLuhan‘s work in the main was about media literacy. Not to mention Howard Rheingold‘s lengthy and thorough work on new media and social media literacy.

So much has changed and changed hands since McLuhan left us. The computer moved from business and industry to the home and finally to every place and pocket available. In Coding Literacy: How Computer Programming is Changing Writing (MIT Press, 2017), Annette Vee argues that literacy is infrastructural. She explores two phases of its spread. One is where we adopt inscription technologies as material infrastructures. Then, as we adopt those technologies that affect the “quotidian activities of everyday citizens: literacy is adopted as infrastructure” (p. 141). She notes crucially that communicative practices such as writing and programming can manifest as actions and as artifacts. Vee’s approach addresses the social aspects of these literacies (i.e., understanding the actions), as well as their material underpinnings (i.e., understanding the artifacts). It’s an important new view of several serious issues.

Zooming out to the walls, rooms, and roads around us, Shannon Mattern’s Code + Clay… Data + Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) takes up the mantle of media archaeology and “challenges the newness of the new” by looking back at infrastructure at large — our built environment. Our urban areas are the site of information access as well as media themselves. Citing Malcolm McCullough and echoing McLuhan, She writes, “Our physical landscapes inscribe, transmit, and even embody information–about their histories, their state of repair, their potential uses, and so forth” (p. xii). Mattern’s use of sound, inscription, voice, and code illuminates our environment in a different and generative light.

We academics do a lot of work to justify and perpetuate our own work, a lot of advertising for ourselves. This is not that kind of work. Both of these books are about current situations verging on crises, and both of them take a long, historical view of these situations. There is still much to learn about all of these constructs and all of their relationships. There is an entire network of literacies we all need to learn. Now.

References:

Mattern, Shannon. (2017). Code + Clay… Data + Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Tyner, Katherine (Ed.). (2010). Media Literacy: New Agendas in Communication. New York: Routledge.

Vee, Annette. (2017). Coding Literacy: How Computer Programming is Changing Writing. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

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Many thanks to Alison Langmead, Lily Brewer, and the fine folks at the University of Pittsburgh and their Digital Scholarship Services for hosting and allowing me to crash the Willful Transgressions: Transdisciplinary Teaching workshop with Shannon Mattern. It was there that I was able to meet and work briefly with both Shannon and Annette.

Interfaces of the Word

Designer James Macanufo once said that if paper didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it. Paper, inscribed with writing and then with printing, enabled recorded history (Ong, 1977). Media theorist Friedrich Kittler (1990) wrote that print held a “monopoly on the storage of serial data” (p.245). Even as writing represents a locking down of knowledge, one of “sequestration, interposition, diaeresis or division, alienation, and closed fields or systems” (Ong, 1977, p. 305), Walter Ong points out that it also represents liberation, a system of access where none existed before. After all, we only write things down in order to enable the possibility of referring to them later.

@mathpunk People would make fun of you if you were working on software for communicating with the dead even though that’s half the purpose of writing. [Tweeted, November 1, 2014]

Paper Knowledge“Written genres,” Lisa Gitelman writes in her latest book, Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents (Duke University Press, 2014), “depend on a possibly infinite number of things that large groups of people recognize, will recognize, or have recognized that writings can be for. To wit, documents are for knowing-showing” (p. 2). This “knowing-showing” is the liberation aspect of writing and printing, the enabling of access. She continues, “[J]ob printers facilitate or ensure the pure exchange function. That is, they ensure value that exists in and only because of exchange, exchangeability, and circulation” (p. 48).

“Digital documents… have no edges” (Gitelman, 2014, p. 17). A “document” in digital space is only metaphorically so. Every form of media is the same at the digital level. Just as genres of writing emerge from discursive fields according to the shared knowledge of readers, “the ways they have been internalized by members of a shared culture” (Gitelman, 2014, p. 17), digital documents are arranged in recognizable forms on the screen. The underlying mechanisms doing the arranging remain largely hidden from us as users, what Alex Galloway (2013) calls “the interface effect” (passim). It’s kind of like using genre as a way to parse massive amounts of text, as a different way to organize and understand writing.

Comparative Textual MediaGitelman also rightfully makes an appearance in Comparative Textual Media: Transforming the Humanities in the Postprint Era (University of Minnesota Press, 2013), edited by N. Katherine Hayles and Jessica Pressman, further arguing the importance of job printing and helping define and redefine the fraught term “print culture.” Other pieces include ones by Matthew Kirschenbaum, Johanna Drucker, Jessica Brantley, and an excellent, contextualizing introduction by the editors. In her chapter, Rita Raley outlines what she calls “TXTual Practice,” describing screen-based, “born-digital” works as unstable, “not texts but text effects” (p. 20). Her essay moves away from viewing the digital document and other such contrivances as metaphors and toward employing Galloway’s interface effect. Galloway’s view casts the old argument of interfaces becoming transparent and “getting out of the way” in a bright and harsh new light, writing that their “operability engenders inoperability” (p. 25).

Reading Writing InterfacesLori Emerson’s Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound (University of Minnesota Press, 2014) takes on the “invisible, imperceptible, inoperable” interface, starting with ubiquitous computing. Once our devices obsolesce into general use, “those transparent devices that achieve more the less they do” (Galloway, 2013, p. 25), they escape everyday criticism. The interface stuff hides in those edges that aren’t really there. The words I write now float and flicker on a screen in a conceptual space I barely understand. Emerson cites the mass seduction of the Macintosh computer interface and the activist digital media poetics that critique that seduction. Her media archeological approach unearths the hidden mechanisms of reading and writing and the ways we negotiate screen- and print-based texts. It’s no surprise that Reading Writing Interfaces is one of the better recent books on these issues.

Type on ScreenLike Judith Donath’s The Social Machine (MIT Press, 2014), Type on Screen: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Developers, and Students (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014), edited by Ellen Lupton, takes a designer’s tack on these issues. Though it’s a guide rather than a scholarly study, the book covers contrivances and conventions like type sizes, fonts, grids, scrolls, spines, wireframes, wayfinding, laundry lines, and designing the written word for different screens, as well as case studies of each. It’s an excellent way to frame one’s thinking on all of the above for critique or the classroom. Or both.

If paper didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it. Would anyone say the same for the screen?

References:

Emerson, Lori. (2014). Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Galloway, Alexander R. (2013). The Interface Effect. Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Gitelman, Lisa. (2014). Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Raley, Rita. (2013). TXTual Practice. In, N. Katerine Hayles & Jessica Pressman (Eds.), Comparative Textual Media: Transforming the Humanities in the Postprint Era (pp. 183-197). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Kittler, Friedrich A. (1990). Discourse Networks: 1800/1900. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Lupton, Ellen (Ed.) (2014). Type on Screen: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Developers, and Students. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Ong, Walter J. (1977). Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Contested Boundaries and Saturated Selves

In her book The Social Machine (MIT Press, 2014), Judith Donath outlines designs for living online. Echoing George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980), she writes, “We are embodied beings, who have evolved in the physical world; our thoughts and imagination are rooted in the sensory experience of our physical surroundings. Online, there is no body; there is only information. We comprehend abstract ideas by reframing them in metaphoric terms that ultimately derive from physical experience” (p. 9). One needn’t look any further that a computer’s desktop to see this in action. “Immersion” was once a strong notion in computer-mediated communication studies, online communities, and virtual reality. Now we are not so much immersed in media as we are saturated by it.

The Social MachineDonath points out that these are boundary issues. Walls, fences, locked doors, online moderators—“the doormen of discussions” (p. 159), spam filters, and other gate-keeping contrivances protect the private from the public and vice versa. Even with such boundaries in place, our embodiedness is still at risk. We are as sieves, filtering news from noise, or as sponges, soaking up information and influence of all kinds. The latter evokes Psychologist Kenneth Gergen’s “saturated self”:

Emerging technologies saturate us with the voices of humankind—both harmonious and alien. As we absorb their varied rhymes and reasons, they become a part of us and we of them. Social saturation furnishes us with a multiplicity of incoherent and unrelated languages of the self (1991, p. 6).

Nearly twenty years ago, Nicholas Negroponte (1995) pontificated on the fading boundaries of the “post-information age,” writing,

In the same ways that hypertext removes the limitations of the printed page, the post-information age will remove the limitations of geography. Digital living will include less and less dependence upon being in specific place at specific time, and the transmission of place itself will start to become possible. In the post-information age, since you may live and work at one or many locations, the concept of an “address” now takes on new meaning (p. 163).

The history of the internet is largely a story of broken-down boundaries (see Grodin & Lindolof, 1996; Jenkins, 2006; van Dijck, 2013). Its architecture “rests upon principles of convergence, which enable multiple and overlapping connections between varieties of distinct social spheres” (Papacharissi, 2011, p. 305). The inherent irony of Negroponte’s observation is that since physical location no longer matters in the digital, post-geographic workday, it makes it matter even more. If you can work from anywhere, where you live means more than ever. You can live wherever you want regardless of where your work is. The old boundaries are gone.

The End of AbsenceThe overwhelming irony now is that where we are matters less than the digital wares with which we saturate our selves. On the commute, at school, at work, at home, on a trip, visiting friends—the smartphone usurps all of these with a persistent and precise hold on our attention. In William Gibson‘s term, the online world has “everted” itself into physical space. The fact that it is now inescapable is what writer Michael Harris calls “the end of absence.” His is an example of what I have called the Advent Horizon. We feel a sense of loss when we cross one of these lines. From the Socratic shift from speaking to writing, to the transition from writing to typing, we’re comfortable—differently on an individual and collective level—in one of these phases. As we adopt and assimilate new devices, our horizon of comfort drifts further out while our media vocabulary increases. It takes 30 years for a full, generational change and with that a full shift in advent horizons. Harris notes, “If you were born before 1985, then you know what life is like both with the internet and without. You are making the pilgrimage from Before to After” (p. 15).

Reaching across one of these divides, Thomas de Zengotita (2005) writes of digitally zombified youth,

… It was if they were somnambulating, hypnotized, into some newborn zone of being where hallowed custom and bizarre context were so surreally fused that the whole tableau seemed poised to shimmer off into the ether at any moment (p. 155).

Ours is a chronic presence in a chronic present. Donath (2014), writes of our online personal presences, “The stranger, as we think of him now, may cease to exist” (p. 336). But Harris (2014) adds, “Before all memory of those absences is shuttered, though, there is this brief time when we might record what came before. We might do something with those small, barely noticeable instances when we’re reminded of our love for absence. They flash at us amid the rush of our experience and seem to signal: Wait, wasn’t there something…?” (p. 8).

Well, was there?

References:

de Zengotita, Thomas. (2005). Mediated: How the Media Shapes Our World and the Way We Live in It. New York: Bloomsbury.

Donath, Judith. (2014). The Social Machine: Designs for Living Online. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Gergen, Kenneth. (1991). The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York: Basic Books.

Grodin, Debra & Lindlof, Thomas R. (1996). Constructing the Self in a Mediated World. Thosand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Harros, Michael. (2014). The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection. New York: Current.

Jenkins, Henry. (2006). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.

Lakoff, George, & Johnson, Mark (1980). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Negroponte, Nicholas. (1995). Being Digital.  New York: Knopf.

Papacharissi, Zizi. (2011). A Networked Self. In Zizi Papacharissi (Ed.), A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (pp. 304-317). New York: Routledge.

van Dijck, José. (2013). The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ambient Networks: You Are Here

“How did you get here?” asks Peter Morville (p. xi) on the first page of his book Ambient Findability (O’Reilly, 2005). It’s not a metaphysical question, but a practical and direct one. Ambience indirectly calls attention to the here we’re in. It is all around us at all times. In Tim Morton’s The Ecological Thought (Harvard University Press, 2010), he explains it this way:

Take the music of David Byrne and Laurie Anderson. Early postmodern theory likes to think of them as nihilists or relativists, bricoleurs in the bush of ghosts. Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” features a repeated sample of her voice and a sinister series of recorded messages. This voice typifies postmodern art materials: forms of incomprehensible, unspeakable existence. Some might call it inert, sheer existence–art as ooze. It’s a medium in which meaning and unmeaning coexist. This oozy medium has something physical about it, which I call ambience (p. 103).

City Wall, Helsinki, 2007
“City Wall,” Helsinki Institute for Information Tenchnology, 2007.

Ambient Commons

“Ambient” is a loaded, little word at best. You wouldn’t be alone if the first thing that comes to mind upon reading the word is a thoughtful soundscape by Brian Eno. In Ambient Commons: Attention in the Age of Embodied Information (MIT Press, 2013), Malcolm McCullough reclaims the word for our hypermediated surroundings. Claiming that we’ve mediated aspects of our world so well that we’ve obscured parts of the world itself. Looking through the ambient invites us to think about our environment–built, mediated, situated, or otherwise–in a new way. McCullough asks, “Do increasingly situated information technologies illuminate the world, or do they just eclipse it (figure 1.3 below)?” (p. 20). He adds on the book’s website, “Good interaction design reduces the ‘cognitive load’ of artifacts. It also recognizes how activities make use of context, periphery, and background. But now as ever more of the human perceptual field has been engineered for cognition, is there a danger of losing awareness of how environment also informs?” How much can we augment before we begin to obscure?

Ambient Commons: Fig. 1.3
Ambient Commons: Fig. 1.3

McCullough’s background as a design practitioner grounds his inquiry in the cognition of the user (He is Associate Professor of Architecture and Design at the University of Michigan). That alone sets Ambient Commons apart from most other books in the field. It’s not against technology, and it’s not cheering it on. It’s a call to more mindful use.

An Aesthesia of NetworksFraming some of the same concerns within the wiry window of networks, Anna Munster’s An Aesthesia of Networks: Conjunctive Experience in Art and Technology (MIT Press, 2013) is also a call for more mindful consideration. “Aesthesia” reinstates experience in and of the network, which is possibly the most pervasive of all our mediating technologies. Using William James’ radical empiricism, viral media, video art, Deleuze and Guattari, and Google Earth, Munster’s approach pushes us past the day-to-day relations of data to the underlying assemblage of networks. Like Peter Krapp’s Noise Channels (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), An Aesthesia… pulls the background to the fore; it makes the ambient evident.

“Ambience points to the here and now,” Morton (2010) continues, “in a compelling way that goes beyond explicit content… ambience opens up our ideas of space and place into radical questioning” (p. 104). Just as poetry calls attention to language, ambience calls attention to place. You are here.

References:

Krapp, Peter. (2011). Noise Channels: Glitch and Error in Digital Culture. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

McCullough, Malcolm. (2013). Ambient Commons: Attention in the Age of Embodied Information. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Morton, Timothy. (2010). The Ecological Thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Morville, Peter. (2005). Ambient Findability (Preface: You Are Here!). Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.

Munster, Anna. (2013). An Aesthesia of Networks: Conjunctive Experience in Art and Technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.