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.

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.

Summer Reading List, 2016

If you’re like me, you haven’t even read all of last year’s recommendations, but here’s another great pile of pages to read! This year’s list boasts contributions from newcomers Rita Raley, Gerfried Ambrosch, Pat Cadigan, Emily Empel, Alexander Weheliye, André Carrington, Douglas Lain, Christina Henry, Alfie Bown, Charles Mudede, and Joseph Nechvatal, as well as veteran listers Janet Murray, Lance Strate, Peter Lunenfeld, Ashley Crawford, Lily Brewer, Dave Allen, Rick Moody, Alex Burns, Patrick Barber, Michael Schandorf, and myself.

Lily at Green Apple Books
Lily Brewer at Green Apple Books in San Francisco.

As always unless otherwise noted, titles and covers link to the book at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon: the best bookstore on the planet. Read on!

Powell's Books

Pat Cadigan

Roz Kaveney’s Rhapsody of Blood series hasn’t received half the attention it deserves. The first three books––Rituals (Plus One Press, 2012), Reflections (2013), and Resurrections (2014)––are available now and two more are coming. It’s the secret history of the world, told with so much wit and panache, that you’ll feel like your IQ went up a few points.

Occupy MeTricia Sullivan’s Occupy Me (Gollancz, 2016) is also not to be missed. It’s not a gentle ride, but you can handle it. This is a book for your wild side.

Paul McAuley has followed up Something Coming Through (Gollancz, 2015) with Into Everywhere (Gollancz, 2016). Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on what’s going on in the McAuley-verse.

Liz Williams is a writer who has been shamefully overlooked, even after she was nominated for an Arthur C. Clarke Award. There are plenty of great books to choose from but if you’re wondering where to start, go with Snake Agent (Open Road Media, 2013), the first book in her Detective Chen mysteries. After that, you won’t need any help from me.

Finally… I spent the first four months of last year having chemo for my incorrigible cancer. The shortlist for last year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award kept me entertained and thinking about things not related to carcinomas.

Those six books are:

Station Eleven took the prize but really, all six are winners. Trust me.

Rick Moody

Conjunctions 66: Affinity: Which I have a piece in, but that’s not why I want to read it. It’s a great issue, of one of the greatest literary magazines in the country, which is also now one of the longest-lived literary magazines.

Dana Spiotta, Innocents and Others (Scribner, 2016): She’s one of my favorite stylists operating these days.

A Collapse of HorsesBrian Evenson, A Collapse of Horses (Coffee House Press, 2016): Brian’s technicolor stories of the West and violence and human psychology are always excellent, and always underrated, or not as well known as they should be. I’m excited to catch up on the recent stuff, which I know less well than the early stuff.

Dorthe Nors, So Much for That Winter (Graywolf Press, 2016): One of the truly great writers of Western Europe, and just now acquiring a bit of a following in the US. She’s Danish, but sort of half Woolf, half Welty.

J. C. Hallman, Wm & H’ry: Literature, Love, and the Letters between Wiliam and Henry James (University of Iowa Press, 2013): Which is a book about the correspondence between the James brothers. I started it at the beginning of the semester, and really loved it. I want to finish.

Ben Ratliff, Every Song Ever (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016): I hate most music writing these days, except that I love Ben Ratliff. I am tempted to buy almost everything he recommends, even the extreme metal stuff…

Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (Harper Perennial, 2008): Well, you know, a lot of people already know about this book. I know about it chiefly from reading Derrida, and last year I decided I had put it off long enough. I dip in and read a few pages, and then go and read the commentators some more.

Ahmad Faris Al-Shidyaq, Leg Over Leg (New York University Press, 2015): The first great Arabic novel, or so they say. But most of them haven’t read it. A book I have long aspired to. Hoping to get to it this summer!

Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle: Book 3 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015): Because I have now finished 1 and 2.

Rita Raley

I might be remiss if I began this list without mentioning the two new books in the Electronic Mediations series from the University of Minnesota Press, but I am genuinely excited about Yuk Hui’s On the Existence of Digital Objects (2016) and Jennifer Gabrys’ Program Earth: Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet (2016). In the wake of recent translations of Gilbert Simondon’s work into English, “technical objects” (emerging in part from the Industrial Revolution) are increasingly central to critical conversations in media and science and technology studies. Hui builds on Simondon and Heidegger in his philosophical account of the “digital objects” that constitute our contemporary socio-technical milieu, posing timely questions about the individuation of both objects and humans in relation to technical systems. Equally timely is Program Earth, Gabrys’s cultural and theoretical analysis of environmental sensing, which should I think be required reading for anyone interested in issues of media and environment. Ranging from spillcams to smart cities and participatory urbanism, Gabrys demonstrates with sharp critical acumen the extent to which “the earth” is programmed, monitored, experienced, and, one hopes, engaged.

Track ChangesBut the big academic text for me this summer is of course Matt Kirschenbaum’s Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing (Harvard University Press, 2016). I’ve been following along, as one does with a Kirschenbaum project, and reading around the edges, as with the recent piece in the Paris Review, but I’m eager to sit down and work through the thing itself.

I’m also looking forward to making my way through the formidable collection, Global Activism: Art and Conflict in the 21st Century (MIT Press, 2015), which follows from a ZKM exhibit a couple of years ago, and David Jhave Johnston’s Aesthetic Animism: Digital Poetry’s Ontological Implications (MIT Press, 2016). I have been teaching and studying Jhave’s work for some time, and I can’t wait to see the book-length treatment of what he calls TAVITS (text audio-visual interactivity). And the MIT book I want to insist everyone should read is Gary Hall’s Pirate Philosophy: For a Digital Posthumanities (2016). As Hall persuasively argues, it is not enough to develop post-theoretical paradigms when our various circuits of scholarly communication are still embedded in humanist practices. With a thorough account of the recent transformations in academic publishing, Hall challenges both individuals and institutions to develop models of knowledge dissemination better suited to our technological and socio-economic landscape.

Summer is for me the time for essay and short story collections. Like many I imagine, I’ve been tracking the development of some of the entries for the “Digital Keywords” project at Culture Digitally, and now I am eager to dip into the whole collection, out soon from Princeton University Press. Absent a new Alice Munro compilation (sigh), I’ve lined up Etgar Keret’s Suddenly, A Knock on the Door (FSG Originals, 2012), Aleksander Hemon’s The Question of Bruno (Vintage, 2000), and Colum McCann’s Thirteen Ways of Looking (Random House, 2015) for August. And Lauren Groff’s story in the New Yorker last summer (“Ghosts and Empties“) has led me to pick up her novel, The Monsters of Templeton (Hachette, 2008).

Summer is also the time for comics and graphic novels. I want to start with Jeff Smith’s RASL (Cartoon Books, 2013), which I’ve not yet read, but then I’m looking forward to Vishwajyoti Ghosh’s Delhi Calm (HarperCollins India, 2010), Ozge Samanci’s Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015), and Sonny Liew’s The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (Pantheon, 2016). Last summer’s reads in this category are also worth a mention: Riad Sattouf’s The Arab of the Future (Metropolitan Books, 2015) and Sydney Padua’s marvelous The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage (Pantheon, 2015).

And speaking of image-word experiments, I keep recommending Mark Z. Danielewski’s serial novel, The Familiar (Pantheon, 2015-), to anyone who will listen but I have to say it’s Volume 3: Honeysuckle & Pain (Pantheon, 2016) that seals the deal.

Alexander Weheliye

Here are a few books I’m looking forward to reading this summer:

Lance Strate

Here in New York, the Broadway musical Hamilton has been all the rage for the past year, so I have decided to start my summer reading off with The Federalist Papers, authored by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (Signet Classics, 2003, originally published 1787-1788 under the pseudonym of Publius). While we’re on the subject of authors with the initials A.H., my list also includes Ends and Means: An Inquiry Into the Nature of Ideals by Aldous Huxley (Transaction, 2012, originally published 1937).

I recently received a copy of The Book of Radical General Semantics by Gad Horowitz with Colin Campbell (Pencraft International, 2016), and I would want to read it under any circumstance, but all the more so because I recently became president of the New York Society for General Semantics. I also plan on rereading Lewis Mumford’s The Condition of Man (Harcourt, Brace, 1944). And I have heard great things about the recent book by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence (Schocken Books, 2015), so that’s on my list as well.

StoneFor scholars in the field of communication and media studies, Arthur Asa Berger is a familiar name, having authored many books on media and popular culture, and I look forward to reading his newest, Writing Myself into Existence (NeoPoiesis Pres, 2016). Regarding communication, I also have on my list Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (Penguin, 2015) by Sherry Turkle, a scholar often included in media ecology circles. And on the related topic of the study of time, I am also including Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman (University of Minnesota Press, 2015).

Poetry books play a prominent and pleasant role regarding summertime reading (and the rest of the year as well), and this year my stack includes a collection by David Ossman of Firesign Theatre, Marshmallows and Despair (NeoPoiesis Pres, 2015), and Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey (Andrews McMeel, 2015).

My son has recommended the work of playwright Jenny Schwartz, so I’m also including two of her plays, God’s Ear (Samuel French, 2009), and Somewhere Fun (Oberon, 2013). Finally, there’s a mystery novel I just have to read, Death by Triangulation by John Oughton (NeoPoiesis Pres, 2015).

Gerfried Ambrosch

Being an information junkie, I mostly read non-fiction. The last two works of fiction I have read were Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins (Bantam, 1984), which I highly recommend (It’s a great summer read and a real page-turner), and, for research reasons, the Quran (not such a page-turner). The former tells the story of a chap called Alobar, an 8th-century Eurasian king, who, having escaped execution, is granted everlasting youth, finds a female companion with whom he shares this gift, and experiences many strange things over the course of several centuries. His extraordinary life story eventually intersects with that of a young waitress from Seattle and several other curious characters in this darkly humorous novel. (Come to think of it, the story told in the Quran is not dissimilar – minus the humor.)

The Righteous MindI don’t usually plan ahead in terms of a reading list (I studied English Literature and had to work through extensive reading lists for years…), but the two books that I’m currently reading are The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt (Vintage, 2013) and The Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt by Richard Carrier (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014), whose expertise is in ancient history.

Human morality, says Haidt, is highly intuitive. But we use reason to justify our moral intuitions, many of which are based on disgust and communal concerns about ‘sanctity’ and reputation. Thus, argues Haidt, our morality has its roots in our evolution as a tribal, cooperating species. A fascinating read!

I’m about halfway through Richard Carrier’s highly scholarly, yet captivating, book on the historicity of Jesus. The prolific historian presents a mountain of evidence suggesting that there never was a historical Jesus. One by one, he debunks every existing argument in support of the widespread belief that the cult of Jesus had to have originated from an actual historical figure, a hypothesis for which there seems to exist no evidence whatsoever.

The third item on my summer reading list – Why the West Is Best: A Muslim Apostate’s Defense of Liberal Democracy by Ibn Warraq (Encounter Books, 2011) – should make for a superb read. The title says it all. Warraq, who is described as an ‘Islamic scholar and a leading figure in Koranic criticism,’ criticizes the ‘erosion of our civilizational self-confidence’ under the influence of such intellectual heavy weights as Edward Said and Noam Chomsky. Controversial!

André Carrington

I’ll be talking about my own book on a few occasions this summer, so I’ll start there. My book is Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction (University of Minnesota Press, 2016). Speculative BlacknessI think people might be interested if they’re into African American/Black Studies, science fiction & fantasy, comics, representations of Black women, fan culture, or the politics of cultural production. Speculative Blackness analyzes gendered, sexual, generational, and global constructions of Blackness in speculative fiction—including science fiction, fantasy, and utopian works, along with their fan cultures—to illustrate the relationship between genre conventions in media and the meanings ascribed to race in the popular imagination.

Currently, I’m reading the graphic memoir Marbles by Ellen Forney (Avery, 2012) in order to supervise a student’s senior project in which it’s a primary text. I’ve had it for over a year, but I’m ready to read it now that it’s turned into a professional responsibility, too.

Next up will be the remainder of Christopher Priest’s Black Panther series. I’m on #46 now… I got Marvel Unlimited specifically to read this, and it’s been useful to catch up with other comics I’ve missed in the recent past. I’ll have more to say about this soon because I’m writing about it.

A couple novels I’ll be reading this summer are Minion (St. Martin’s, 2004) and Bad Blood (St. Martin’s, 2008), by the late L.A. Banks. They’re the respective first volumes of her vampire huntress legend and werewolf series. I’ve never had the constitution for horror before but I want to be able to handle it—I just read Daniel Jose Older’s novel Shadowshaper (Arthur A. Levine, 2015) and it was thrilling, but scary.

There’s some other horror/supernatural fiction I’m reading for research this summer, by Mervyn Peake, and a few stories that I’m hoping to teach in a Science Fiction course that are in my colleague Heather Masri’s expansive anthology. I’ve never been the best reader of short fiction, for some reason. But students do well with shorter texts, for obvious reasons.

I’m also really, really going to read this comics biography of Rosa Luxemburg (by Paul Frölich; Haymarket Books, 2010), really soon.

Emily Empel

As a professional futurist, I’m always astounded by the lack of female voices in future-orientated conversations, especially those highlighted in mainstream media. For the past few months, I’ve been obsessed with making a place for women to think and talk about the future. By some chance, I was asked to guest edit an upcoming summer issue of MISC (a journal of insight and foresight), focusing on women. I rallied a small group of women to join forces and we were able to explore what would happen if you sourced a future-view entirely from the perspectives of women. Our efforts resulted in the issue’s special feature, “The Future According to Women.”

This was all great, and for months, I enjoyed daily conversations with some pretty bad-ass women (over 40 of them). I didn’t realize how addicted I had become to these interactions until we finished compiling the piece—and I was left with the same feeling as after a breakup. Below are some books that I read immediately to mend my heart post-project. Naturally, they are all authored by women. Enjoy!

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-AbsorbedAlexandra Brodsky and Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, Editors, The Feminist Utopia Project (The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2015): With 57 views of a wildly different future, this book is a nightstand staple. You’ll not only want to read a chapter a night (each penned by a different author), but you’ll also want to send a copy to all your friends and suggest starting an impromptu bookclub to discuss every chapter in-depth. There’s some seriously groundbreaking futuring hidden in this book. If you read it, tweet me your favorite vision of utoptia (@localrat). I’m always so curious what other people choose.

Nancy Jo Sales, American Girls (Knopf, 2016): Lest we forget that the future currently belongs only to the few, Nancy Jo explores how a lack of consideration in creating technology and a predominantly bro culture in the Valley is driving a cultural shift that takes power away from girls and their futures. Fair warning: this book will make your stomach turn. We hear about how powerful social media has been for driving social change, while Nancy Jo covers the counterview—writing about the status quo with a vengeance.

Rebecca Traister, All the Single Ladies (Simon & Schuster, 2016): I had to pick this book up after hearing it touted countless times on my favorite podcast, Call Your Girlfriend. As more of my friends partner off and marry, it’s fascinating to learn about how the role of single women has evolved over time. I especially love the chapter that equates single-lady friendships to long-term partnerships.

Peggy Orenstein, Girls & Sex (Harper, 2016): A must-read for any parent, friend of a parent, or friend of a teacher. I heard Peggy’s interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air and was blown away. Peggy critiques sex-positive culture, arguing that girls don’t have access to these interactions until later in adulthood. Her idea of multiple virginities is one of the most beautiful concepts I’ve read about in ages.

Olivia Laing, The Lonely City (Picador, 2016): Ever since devouring Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together (a must-read classic), I’ve been very curious about this concept of loneliness and how it might manifest in a more digital and urban world. Olivia’s writing is hauntingly beautiful, and made me rethink our modern notions of progress and development.

Meghan Daum, Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids (Picador, 2016): Motherhood is undervalued and important. So is the opposite: a woman’s choice to eschew parenthood. This collection of essays is honest, heartfelt, and not to mention, critical for understanding the future of women.

As I said, my breakup with “The Future According to Women” devastated me. If you have any other book recommendations, authored by bad-ass women, please don’t hold out. It will be a long summer otherwise.

Joseph Nechvatal

I suggest my sex farce poetry book Destroyer of Naivetés that was released last year on Punctum Books. Destroyer of Naivetés is an epic passion poem that takes up a position of excess from within a society that believes that the less you conceal, the stranger you become.

An audio recording of Destroyer of Naivetés will be released this year on the Entr’acte label out of Antwerp.

Christina Henry

I read two or three books a week – sometimes more if I’m not bumping up to the end of a writing deadline. I’ve got a stack of about 200 or so books that are waiting for me to read them, and yet I can’t stop buying new books to add to the pile.

What I read tends to depend on where I am in the writing process. I read a mix of fiction (all genres) and nonfiction, but I tend to read more fiction when I’m starting to write a book and more nonfiction when I’m finishing one – mostly because I don’t want another author’s fiction voice interfering with my own. I’m finishing up a manuscript now so there’s more nonfiction queued up than fiction at the moment.

Geek Feminist RevolutionKameron Hurley’s The Geek Feminist Revolution (Tor, 2016) is an immediate reading priority. I love her writing voice, and she’s the kind of writer that talks about issues I care about – feminism, geek culture, women in science fiction and fantasy among other topics – in a way that always has me nodding along saying, “Yes, that is true. Yes, that is all true.” I’m looking forward to reading this collection and recommending it to everyone I know.

Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II by Richard Reeves (Picador, 2016) was recently released in paperback. I’m very partial to history books that take a small slice of a historical event (like WWII) and put it under a microscope.

Carl Hiaasen’s Razor Girl (Knopf, 2016) is released the day after Labor Day (our unofficial end to summer), but it’s still one of my most anticipated new releases. Hiaasen’s sharp writing and dangerous wit make him one of my favorite writers. His books are full of insane, unpredictable characters that make me laugh out loud.

Alex Burns

This summer, I’m noting books on economic statecraft — the intersection of a state’s economic power, resources, and international financial markets — for possible future postdoctoral research. Robert D. Blackwell and Jennifer M. Harris’ War By Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft (Belknap Press, 2016) lays out a United States view of increasing liberal democracy in the world via investment and trade. Jakub J. Grygiel and A. Wess Mitchell’s The Unquiet Frontier: Rising Rivals, Vulnerable Allies, and the Crisis of American Power (Princeton University Press, 2016) advances the thesis that newly powerful authoritarian states challenge the United States and threaten its international alliance structure. William J. Norris’ Chinese Economic Statecraft: Commercial Actors, Grand Strategy, and State Control (Cornell University Press, 2016) explores China’s contrasting approach which is rooted in a deep understanding of grand strategy and effective use of sovereign wealth funds. For a theoretical understanding of these dynamics David A. Baldwin’s Power and International Relations: A Conceptual Approach (Princeton University Press, 2016) is helpful. For translating economic statecraft insights into actionable trade ideas, Richard L. Peterson’s Trading On Sentiment: The Power of Minds Over Markets (John Wiley & Sons, 2016) describes why hedge funds use behavioural finance and sentiment analysis to arbitrage Great Britain’s Brexit vote on the European Union and other political risks.

Janet Murray

The book I am most excited about this month, and setting aside time to read slowly and take in at many levels — intellectual and existential — is Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky’s Why Only Us: Language and Evolution (MIT Press, 2015). It is an attempt to answer the title question in the face of the challenge from animal cognition researchers to Chomsky’s claims for a unique, innate, universal syntax processor in the human brain. Berwick, one of the world’s leading natural language AI experts, and someone I worked with at MIT on educational applications and have enormous admiration and respect for, supplies the computational model to support Chomsky’s revised and streamlined linguistic model for a minimal shared processor.

Why Only UsThe idea is that a small but powerful module is unique to us, and that its key function is to support the medium of human abstract thought. But this is more than a technical explanation of an arcane controversy in cog sci — it is a profound exploration of what it means to be human, what sets us apart from whatever we think may be going on in the minds of our primate close cousins and the feathered, furred, and finned members of our large extended family of life forms. It is a short book, lucidly written despite the challenging complexity of the argument. The logic is clear, and every page connects to a large body of research pro- and con- and every chapter opens up a new set of both disturbing and thrilling questions about who we are and how we came to be us. In some ways this may be the light side of the force that counters the better known and to me very foolish worries about the “singularity.” Kurzweil’s schema erases the difference between human and robot brain (except as matter of processing power), Berwick & Chomsky would move us further from the animal brain. It is, in my view, one of the signal projects of the humanities in the 21st century to help us understand our place in this new chain of being in which instead of the dumb beasts and angels to define our place, we have smart ravens on one side and even smarter computers on the other. I’m devouring this book in the hope of coming out the other end, whether assenting to or resisting their theory, with a much sharper map of this new territory.

Charles Mudede

Alfie Bown

My wife and I launched the Hong Kong Review of Books this year and its meant a huge number of exciting new books have passed through our hands. Picking just a few was difficult, but these would be a few of the stand-out books of the year so far that I’d recommend making special time for this summer. I’ve stuck to 2016 to make my choices easier.

Create or DieStephen Lee Naish, Create or Die: Essays on the Artistry of Dennis Hopper (Amsterdam University Press, 2016): Frank Booth: is there a more interesting Hollywood icon, especially from the perspective of psychoanalysis? Naish’s book explores Hopper’s powerful character in detail, but goes far further, analyzing Hopper as actor, director, advertiser, artist, political activist and more, delving into every corner of the career of this fascinating man. Blending critical distance with personal account of Hopper’s influence on him, Naish’s book is a page-turner printed by a university press, maybe the only one…

Laurent de Sutter, Théorie du Kamikaze (PUF, 2016): As yet only in French, this is one to hope comes out in translation soon. De Sutter’s powerful argument is that suicide bombing, or “kamikaze” cannot be simply seen, as it so often is, as a sacrifice of personal life to serve a greater cause (i.e religious fundamental ideology), making it a giving up of identity. Instead, du Sutter claims that the act of “kamikaze” in fact belongs in the world of images. The act of kamikaze, for de Sutter via Debord, is about creating a visual image of explosion and spectacle, giving it a new meaning in relation to postmodern image-obsessed society.

Grant Hamilton, The World of Failing Machines: Speculative Realism and Literature (Zero Books, 2016): This book I was lucky to get a sneak peak at, and is to be published this summer. It applies the philosophy of OOO (Object Oriented Ontology) to literature, asking new questions about what kind of object a book really is. How do we relate to the book object in the way we do, and why? A very original book that makes readers reflect on themselves.

Slavoj Žižek, Refugees, Terror and Other Trouble with the Neighbors: Against the Double Blackmail (Allen Lane, 2016): It may no longer be trendy to put Slavoj on your reading list, and there are those slamming Žižek’s comments on refugees today. But whatever your position, this book forces the important conversations about the current crisis that far too few people are having.

Coming just at the end of last year, I had to leave out two other texts that have been transformative for me: Steven Shaviro’s Discognition (Repeater Books, 2016) and Samo Tomšič’s The Capitalist Unconscious (Verso, 2015), both of which must be read.

Dave Allen

Where to begin? As always, I’ve left this to the last minute, so forgive me the short blurbs!

Sally Mann, Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs (Back Bay, 2016): What a riveting memoir; Mann describes her adolescent and adult life in excruciating detail. No stone is left unturned, including the hate mail she received after her photos of her children, undressed, were published in a New York Times article and review of her work. And then came the stalker. As Patti Smith wrote of this book, “Hold Still is a wild ride of a memoir. Visceral and visionary. Fiercely beautiful. My kind of true adventure.”

Jim Harrison, The Ancient Minstrel (Grove Press, 2016): When Jim Harrison passed away, we lost one of America’s foremost masters of the novella. The Ancient Minstrel consists of three such novellas. The opening story, from which the book takes its title, sees Harrison making fun of his own reputation, although some were not happy with his Author’s Note where he considers his own aging “…and feeling poignantly the threat of death I actually said to myself, “Time to write a memoir.” So I did.” The part that offended some readers was where he imagines dying after choking on a fishbone and sprawling in an alley — he is discovered by a female jogger who stands over him in shorts. I’ll not be the spoiler here, but suffice to say Harrison crosses the line in his own, inimitable style. He’ll be missed.

SPQRMary Beard, SPQR (Liveright, 2015): Growing up in northern England, I often visited a local ancient wall named after the Roman emperor, Hadrian. Hence its name — Hadrian’s Wall. Ever since I’ve been fascinated with Ancient Rome and the Romans. Mary Beard, a professor of classics at Cambridge University, has delivered “a sweeping revisionist history” as the back cover blurb says. And it is true. As she herself writes – “Roman history is always being rewritten, and always has been; in some ways we know more about ancient Rome than the Romans themselves did.”

Willa Cather, The Professor’s House (Vintage, 1990; 1925): This year I started to collect and read books written in the early to middle years of the 20th Century. That is how I discovered Willa Cather, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel, One of Ours, in 1923. (I’m amazed that I came so late to Cather’s work.)

The Professor’s House is a remarkable book. It follows a middle-aged professor whose life becomes disturbed when his wife takes on a new house for them to live in. The idea of moving unsettles him deeply, so deeply that he begins to assess his entire life from youth to adulthood. His realization that he must live alone comes to him quickly and disturbs him further — “…because there was Lillian, there must be marriage and a salary. Because there was marriage, there were children. Because there were children, and fervor in the blood and brain, books were born as well as daughters. His histories, he was convinced, had no more to do with his original ego than his daughters had; they were a result of the high pressure of young manhood.”

Two other early books that I highly recommend are by the author John Williams Stoner (NYRB Classics, 2006; 1965) and Butcher’s Crossing (NYRB Classics, 2007; 1960). Stoner follows a very similar curve to The Professor’s House. Another college professor who’s life is upended by his work, marriage and eventually trying to make sense of his own destiny. Butcher’s Crossing is a lightly-veiled allegory for the Vietnam War. Both are powerful novels.

Diane Williams, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine (McSweeney’s, 2016): I’m sure there are quite a few readers of this list that know of Diane Williams. They may also understand when I write that pinning down Williams’ work is not easy. Her latest book consists of 40 short stories, and by short I mean very short. Others have described her stories as “folktales that hammer like a nail gun.”

In a recent interview she was asked how she came up with the title. She answered: “The book’s title is taken from the story “The Little Bottle of Tears,” from the line: “How did all this end? Oh, fine, fine, fine, fine, fine.” So then I must have thought, I am not sure — end, end — Why can’t it all begin with Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine as well?”

Why not, indeed.

And finally, these. All wonderful reads:

Lily Brewer

This May I started a road trip, alone, from Houston to Los Angeles. After three weeks on and around (the/I-)10 and while in LA, a friend and I ventured to one of the downtown coffee shops. Despite two counts of street harassment upon reaching the threshold, I noticed the space had all the accoutrement of Urban Coffeeshop (TM): an expensive espresso machine, an iPad checkout, prerequisitely uncomfortable, unpolished metal furniture with exposed soldering. But there was something unsettling about the place: The spaces in between the objects overtly reading “Coffeeshop” were too big, and the more I think of it, were growing. The A Field Guide to Getting Lostinfant succulent dryly planted in a lightbulb shell (clearly with no expectations of outgrowth) was an inch too far from the wall, not enough to be at risk of falling but still too close for comfort; two decoration cappuccino cups and saucers were slightly askance, off-center, and alone on an oversized; “reclaimed wood” shelf installed a half a foot too close to the ceiling to be useful but not so close as to keep up the illusion of its authenticity. I tried to attribute this spatial absurdity to the overarching, over-reaching psychology of the city, like it was a fake place, a coffee shop playing at being a coffee shop, a site of unsettled transience that will be gone within a year as construction drives up the surrounding property values while driving away the customers unwilling to pay the harassment tolls, the baristas, in between acting and writing gigs (why don’t they act for me a decent pour?) share the same transience as their market value shifts within the rifts in the walls.

Now unable to sleep knowing this spatial distortion exists and unable to blame it on the recently rediscovered gravitational waves rippling through contemporary science circles, this summer I try to work through this structural exaggeration through studies of space: in movement through it (Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost [Penguin, 2006] and Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life [University of California Press, 1984]); in geographical place (Maggie Nelson’s Women, The New York School, and Other True Abstractions [University of Iowa Press, 2011] and Alice Notley’s Culture of One [Penguin, 2011]); in the built environment (Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities [Vintage, 1992; 1961], Mike Davis’ City of Quartz [Verso, 2006], and Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s Learning from Las Vegas [MIT Press, 1972]); and in material fragments (Anne Carson’s If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho [Vintage, 2003] and Maggie Nelson’s Jane: A Murder [Soft Skull, 2005]). Perhaps I am road weary, but I’m unable to shake the effects of these uncanny, dimensional deviations and can read little else in what lies in my immediate vicinity.

Ashley Crawford

Don DeLillo Zero K (Scribner, 2016) and David Means Hystopia (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016): It has been said by others, but I will join the chorus and state that Zero K  is DeLillo’s best book since 1997’s magnum opus Underworld. While there have been a handful of booklets in between (Falling Man, Point Omega), they were little more than rough sketches towards this cooly executed masterpiece. With its futuristic underground “hospital” and the cult-like, cryonics-obsessed believers of The Convergence it tackles, along with other massive subjects, notions of the Singularity. At times it has the feel of science fiction in its cold, austere settings, but at heart it is a brilliant meditation on mortality. DeLillo has returned to his throne.

HystopiaDavid Means’ Hystopia is a strange, schizophrenic work. It carries an extraordinary premise. JFK has survived a number of assassination attempts and is in his fifth term as President. The Vietnam War drags on and hordes of psychologically damaged Vets are returning to America where they are treated with hallucinogens to “enfold” their traumatic memories via Kennedy’s Psych Corps, a new X-Files-like national entity devoted to maintaining the nation’s mental hygiene. Many evade the system and run amok, burning the country and reenacting the worst horrors of the war upon unwitting civilians. It is a piece of metafiction with a novel within a novel, medical reports and other detritus. It begins with tonal streaks of J.G. Ballard and Don DeLillo and, others have suggested, David Foster Wallace. There are hints, in its metafictional readjustment of history, of Philip K. Dick‘s The Man In The High Castle (where America lost WW2) and Alan Moore’s Watchmen (where America won Vietnam, Woodward and Bernstein were murdered before revealing Watergate and Nixon is in his third term). There are powerful hints of the influence of other powerful Vietnam books such as Stephen Wright’s Meditations in Green, Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers, Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke and Michael Herr’s Dispatches. Even the strange word used for the title, “hystopia” suggests an abundance of weirdness; the melding of “historical” and “hysteria” linked with “dystopia.” Even just the “hyst,” which according to the urban dictionary suggests “concentration breaker,” “mind robbing” and “subliminal thievery” suggests the worst excesses of this alternate 1960s America.

Unfortunately, despite the looming presence of a mass-murdering psychotic Vet, strange hallucinations, conspiracy theories and an America in flames, there are moments when Hystopia descends into what Ben Marcus famously dubbed, in his 2005 Harper’s attack on Jonathan Franzen, as “kitchen fiction” (indeed, quite literally in the rural kitchen scenes) or what Robert Hughes once suggested in Culture of Complaint as “bugs fucking to Mozart” in the Arcadian forest scenes. Means finds ways in which to avoid his own dystopian hell-hole by setting at least a third of the book in an idyllic, forested rural outpost and describing, in saccharine tones, the development of not one, but two love stories (this is balanced to a degree by a deranged mother who falls into fits of demented glossolalia.)

Mixing the dark with the soft dilutes the impact of an otherwise startling novel. The mix of the surreal with the syrupy means that Hystopia lacks the final bite of Ben Marcus’ The Flame Alphabet or McCarthy’s masterpiece The Road. David Means needed to decide whether to remain in the Kitchen or in Armageddon. Still, this is a stunning read, if for the well-crafted premise and language alone.

Patrick Barber

My hopes for an eloquent, expansive summer reading list have been unceremoniously girdled, chopped, topped and limbed by Annie Proulx’s remarkable Barkskins (Scribner, 2016), a 700-page epic novel that follows two families through the colonization of North America and, concomitantly, the systematic destruction of that continent’s forests. I laid hands on this brick of a book just before a three-day weekend camping on the coast, where I was pleased to find that the kids are adept enough in entertaining one another that I was allowed several hours of nothing but reading: reading on the beach, reading at the campsite, reading in the tent. BarkskinsA doorstop such as this is not something one generally recommends for “beach reading,” but aside from the intimidating bulk, the book is (pardon the pun) pitch-perfect for vacation days where you can actually schedule in a couple hours of reading time. The only problem, of course, is that it will be over too soon.

Proulx wastes no time diving into her tales, and fans of her earlier work will recognize the seeming effortlessness with which she unspools great lengths of story. I’ve already read a few sections of this novel, trimmed and edited to short-story length for the New Yorker, but the excerpts didn’t foretell the magnificence of the book as a whole. Proulx’s way of mapping out her novel is deliciously gratifying: time moves forward in echoing blocks, so that we may read about the same passage of decades from two or three different perspectives, and the overlappping of the generations adds to the sense of reverberation as the events and characters trickle down through the years.

Compared to many of her earlier works, Barkskins is distinguished by more complexly and sympathetically drawn characters, and less of her signature brutality and suddenness (though such bluntness is still very present). Some characters have wonderful, loving lives, despite the rugged times and desperate circumstances, and the book in general carries more joy than the average Proulx. I’m presently about halfway through, and am sensing a reconciliation coming as the various families attempt to rebuild their timber businesses amidst an imminent colonial revolt and the expansion of their empires ever deeper into the continent. Along with the sadnesses that accompany the death and destruction of the various humans in the book, the most heartbreaking aspect is the slow, sure, wholesale eradication of the old forests of our continent, and the similarly relentless erasing of the First People who made their lives in those forests. Proulx takes no delight in this gruesome arc, yet her story depends on it. Leaning on thorough descriptions and well-turned visits into the psyches of the various characters, the author deals the cards of fate with a careful, yet impassive hand. That such a wondrously extensive tale feels flowing and effortless is a testament to Annie Proulx’s astonishing abilities as a storyteller and writer.

Some other books you should read this summer:

Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings (Riverhead, 2015) Brutal, fascinating, and a whirlwind of voice and cadence. I am still working my way through this book, but the first section of it remains one of the most amazing stories I’ve ever experienced as a reader.

Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution (NYRB Classics, 2009): An explanation of natural farming from the Japanese contrarian who invented it. Fukuoka is mercurial and blunt, but his approach to plants and nature is open-hearted. After hearing about his techniques for so many years, I am enjoying reading about them in his own voice.

And three debut short story collections. All brilliant, yet flawed, and certainly worth your time:

Douglas Lain

The first thing to tackle on any summer reading list would be your guilt books. That is, not books that are guilty pleasures, but rather books whose presence on your book shelf makes you feel guilty because the title is so obviously worthy and yet it has gathered dust. For me the big guilt book would be Slavoj Zizek’s Less Than Nothing (Verso, 2013). This was Zizek’s much anticipated “big book on Hegel” from 2013. It’s 2016 now, the book is still sitting on my shelf in between The Parallax View (MIT Press, 2009) and Living in the End Times (Verso, 2011).  A few years back I finished reading Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (Oxford University Press, 1976), and this would’ve made a good follow-up if I’d read it promptly. Time to dust it off and tackle it now.

The Divine Madness of Philip K. DickAnother book that I’ll be reading this summer is Kyle Arnold’s The Divine Madness of Philip K. Dick (Oxford University Press, 2016) a book I was assigned to read for the Hong Kong Review of Books. As a Philip K. Dick fanatic, and having read Lawerence Suttin’s fine biography Divine Invasions (Harmony, 1989) when that book came out 20 years ago, I’m very much looking forward to finding out what a clinical psychologist will make of the life and literature of Philip K Dick. The pull quote from the back of the jacket is fascinating, “Despite Dick’s paranoia, his divine madness was not a sign of mental illness, but a powerful spiritual experience conveyed in the images of science fiction.” I’m sure reading this will make me pine for my younger days when I was more prone to mysticism.

Jeff Bursey’s Centring the Margins: Essays and Reviews (2016) is a book I look forward to rereading as I try to promote it for Zero Books. Bursey is a Canadian novelist and literary critic and his book on outsider literature is due out from Zero on July 29th. I’ll be rereading this one because, of the titles due out in July, this one comes closest to sharing my own sensibilities. As a somewhat neglected novelist, I am glad to be publishing Bursey’s book on Matt Unt, Ornela Vorpsi, and Joseph McElroy.

On the political side of my summer, I’ve currently got Raya Dunayevskaya’s Marxism and Freedom (Humanity Books, 2000) open on my nightstand. Dunayevskaya is a somewhat overlooked Marxist. She was Trotsky’s secretary for a time and then broke with him when Trotsky insisted that the Soviet Union was a “deformed worker’s state.” Dunayevskaya was sure that the Soviet Union was merely State Capitalist and her book on Marxism demonstrates that her insights were consistent.

When it comes to fiction I’ll be reading Geoff Nicholson’s 2014 novel The City Under the Skin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Nicholson is one of my favorite novelists. I recently interviewed him for Zero Book’s new line of books entitled “Advancing Conversations” and his first book Street Sleeper (Quartet, 1987) is a classic.

Michael Schandorf

When I was young, I read. All the time. But I didn’t really know how to read. Not really. My eyes scanned the lines. My mind made images. In middle school, in the 80s, I signed up for the Science Fiction Book Club. (I wish I still had all of those books. Even Anne McCaffrey’s dragons.) One of books that came from that association, and that left many images (but little solid) behind, was EonGreg Bear’s Eon (Tor Books, 2015; 1985). Those images lingered for decades. Earlier this year, I realized that the only non-academic (or at least not directly work related) reading I had done for what seemed like years was from the Finnegans Wake on my bedside table. So when I recently stumbled upon a rumpled paperback copy of Eon, I grabbed it. Then I found out it was part of a trilogy: Eternity, the sequel, and Legacy, the prequel. I slowly savored and digested all three over the next few weeks. Not only did the decades-old images from the first book match what I found when I returned to them, they were startlingly recognizable, tangy, and clear. Now, over the summer, I have a short stack of Greg Bear books to saunter through and linger over, including City at the End of Time, Slant, the novella Heads, and a collection of relatively early short stories, Tangents. I can’t claim to be a science fiction expert, but I’ve read a bit.

The most interesting thing, for me, about science fiction is how strongly it inevitably reflects the present. To get an idea of this, find yourself a copy of Tom Shippey’s Oxford Book of Science Fiction Short Stories (Oxford University Press, 2003) and read through history in the shape of the future. Feel the development of the collective imagination sculpted from the shifting present, from H. G. Wells’ hydraulic mechanics at the beginning of the 20th century, through the nuclear visions of mid-century, to the biological, neurological, psychological, and cyberpunk that tracked the changes, and the fears, of a century that hoped despite itself. Greg Bear’s work is largely part of the biological, neurological, and psychological exploration of the technological that came of the 1980s and 90s, a legacy of Cold War preoccupations that shifted into cyberpunk. And, having looked again, I can now recognize the influence it had on me. Bear is often fascinated not only by the evolutionary and technological extension of human neurobiology, but by the possibility of nonhuman psychologies, the intelligence of the viral or the plant-like. Slipping through such stories as a kid contributed significantly to my curiosity about differences in psychological perspective and the relations among perception, conception, and language. It’s a good time for such interests. Quite a lot of very interesting reading is surfacing about perception and conception beyond our traditional and convention blinders of visual bias, including Matthew Fulkerson’s The First Sense: A Philosophical Study of Human Touch (MIT Press, 2013), Gary Tomlinson’s, A Million Years of Music: The Emergence of Human Modernity (Zone Books, 2015), and Phillip Vannini, Dennis Waskul, & Simon Gottschalk’s The Senses in Self, Society, and Culture (Routledge, 2013). These will also season my summer, but I’m looking forward to curling up in the sunshine with my new, old, Greg Bear books, and wading again through future histories past.

Peter Lunenfeld

I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last year as a fellow at the Huntington Library working on a book about the cultural histories of Los Angeles, so my list this summer focuses on Southern California. But, as former journalist turned studio hack Don Ryan wrote back in 1929, Los Angeles is the “city with the aspirations for the Los Angelicization of the world!”

To start, I’ll be reading (and in some cases rereading) the entirety of Kevin Starr’s multi-volume magnum opus, Americans and the California Dream. Starr is a national treasure, writing equally well on architecture as on literature, with an eye for detail, an ear for dialogue, and an open style that invites rather than repels lay readers. The series includes: Americans and the California Dream, 1850–1915 (Oxford University Press, 1986), Inventing the Dream: California through the Progressive Era (1986), Material Dreams: Southern California through the 1920s (1991), Endangered Dreams: The Great Depression in California (1997), The Dream Endures: California Enters the 1940s (2002), Embattled Dreams: California in War and Peace, 1940-1950 (2003), Coast Of Dreams: California on the Edge, 1990-2002 (2006), and Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963 (2011).

A Burglars Guide to the CityTo take a break from all this history, I’ll tackle Don Ryan’s Angel’s Flight (Boni & Liveright, 1927), the book from whence the quote above was pulled. It’s perhaps the first great novel from and of Los Angeles in the 20th century. Ryan presaged elements of Raymond Chandler’s noir on the one hand, and the dark satire of Nathaniel West’s Day of the Locust on the other, telling tales of the city as its boosterish Babbitts intersected with the seediness of downtown Los Angeles, decades before it became hipsterized into today’s real-estate friendly acronym, DTLA.

On my shelf is Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson (Simon & Schuster, 2014), a new biography by Jeff Guinn. To complement this well-researched contemporary account, I’ll read Ed Sanders’ The Family, originally published in 1971, as a way to burrow further into the dark side of LA in the ‘60s. A member of a band called The Fugs as well as a poet, Sanders really catches the vibe of the era, and profoundly understands while remaining contemptuous of Manson’s descent into murder and madness. I’m looking forward to Emma Cline’s The Girls (Random House, 2016), a novelization from the other side of Manson’s pimpy grift. To round this out, I’ll take another look at Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (Ace, 1991), which Manson had fellow cons at McNeil Island Penitentiary explain to him (Manson was not exactly a big reader), and from which he drew some of the rituals to which he subjected the Family and its hangers-on. From grokking to orgiastic water ceremonies, there’s a weird throughline from ‘50s science fiction to the Spahn Ranch (with a stopover in Dianetics and Scientology, but you’ll have to wait for my book for that story).

On the non-SoCal beat, I’m looking forward to A Burglar’s Guide to the City (FSG Originals, 2016) by bldgblog.com’s Geoff Manaugh, an innovative rethinking of urbanism and architecture via true crime. Speaking of true crime, I’ll be reading the most recent book of another historian’s life work, Rick Perlstein’s third volume of the story of the American right since the 1960s. Both Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (Nation Books, 2009) and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (Scribner, 2009) were rare books by a non-movement historian that conservatives were willing to acknowledge, and in some cases even admire, for their rigor and straightforward approach to the growth of the post-WWII right. Not so The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (Simon & Schuster, 2015), which was insufficiently idolatrous towards the only elected president the Republican right likes to invoke from the last hundred years (TR was too anti-trusty, Coolidge and Hoover – well, they were Coolidge and Hoover, Ike kept taxes high and wasn’t enough of a war-monger, Tricky Dick was too crazy, Bush I wasn’t crazy enough, and Bush II while crazy, invaded Iraq instead of Grenada and tanked the economy to boot). Perlstein is a major guide to how we got to where we are now, with one of the two major parties of the 20th century having in the 21st nominated an ignoramus billionaire (millionaire more likely) reality television star, who is mentally unstable, racist, and misogynist, not to mention being a mutant orange rage machine. This is neither the Californian nor the American Dream, it is a nightmare which we must fight.

Roy Christopher

I’m anxiously awaiting the July release of Megan Abbott‘s next book, You Will Know Me (Little, Brown & Co., 2016). Her last three had me riveted all the way through. And too late for summer but eagerly anticipated is James Gleick‘s Time Travel: A History (Pantheon, 2016), which comes out in September (I got an advanced-reading copy, and it is awesome; more on that later). In the meantime, there are these:

discognitionSteven Shaviro, Discognition (Repeater, 2016): I do my best to read novels and biographies during the summer, but the research and the nonfiction creeps in anyway. In Discognition, Steven Shaviro parses the thick thicket of thinking using examples from science fictions of all kinds. Discognition explores the area between sentience and consciousness through computers, aliens, and slime molds, as well as several specific kinds of human—from philosophers to killers.

Doug Stanhope, Digging Up Mother: A Love Story (Da Capo, 2016): Stanhope’s new book, as it states right on the cover, is a love story and a memoir. If you want to know what he’s done since his last DVD or since the last time you saw him live, check Youtube. Most of this book happens before that was even possible. Many a buried back-story is unearthed here: Doug’s earliest days as a road comic, when he actually lived on the road – in his car; his stint as an innovative, master cold-calling telemarketer; one-nighters, hell gigs, middling, featuring, telling jokes to the elderly on a tour bus, and “making it” in all of its elusive meanings; many days and nights of performances, beverages, and substances. There’s quite a lot of the latter, and Mother is there for every phase, step, and bump along the way. [See my full review on Splitsider]

Rasheedah Phillips, Recurrence Plot (and Other Time Travel Tales) (AfroFuturist Affair, 2014): Afrofuturist Affair creative director Rasheedah Phillips’ debut, Recurrence Plot (and Other Time Travel Tales) finds her applying an African concept of time. Using quantum physics as her fictional playground, Phillips reprograms our ontology with interweaving tales of temporal trials and travel. Also check out her edited collections, Black Quantum Futurism: Space-Time Collapse I: From the Congo to the Carolinas (2016) and Black Quantum Futurism: Theory & Practice Vol. I (2015), featuring essays by Rasheedah Phillips, Moor Mother Goddess, Warren C. Longmire, Almah Lavon, Joy Kmt, Thomas Stanley, and Nikitah Okembe-RA Imani. I’m using these in research for my book Dead Precedents (Repeater, forthcoming) along with Jim Gleick’s new book and André Carrington’s Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction (University of Minnesota Press, 2016; see above), among others.

Since I spent the past several months finishing (read: “writing”) my dissertation, the following are all lying around my place in various states of unread:

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.

Otherworldly Weirdness in Our Own World

The human brain’s relationship with reality is fickle at best. The slightest ripple in our expectations can send us off one of many available edges. In his book, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race (Hippocampus Press, 2011), Thomas Ligotti paraphrases Peter Wessel Zapffe, writing,

Consciousness is connected to the human brain in a way that makes the world appear to us as it appears and makes us appear to ourselves as we appear–that is, as ‘selves’ or as ‘persons’ strung together by memories, sensations, emotions, and so on (p. 25).

When the continuity of that connection is corrupted, we are set adrift.

CHAMELEOIn Chameleo (O/R Books, 2015), Robert Guffey’s friend Dion has the continuity of his consciousness severely corrupted. Dion’s reality is already shaky at best, so Guffey sets out to document and investigate the odd goings on around Dion. Quoting Theodore Sturgeon, Guffey says, “Always ask the next question.” Chameleo turns on this very fulcrum: It is a series of next questions asked not necessarily until the questions are answered, but until all of the possibilities are exhausted.

Dion is followed, harassed, and interrogated by groups of people seen and unseen. “Invisible midgets” begin infiltrating his home after he is taken in for questioning about a load of missing night-vision goggles he had nothing to do with. These diminutive, invisible people sometimes appear as aberrations in Dion’s peripheral vision. Imagine the painting of railroad tracks on the tops of trains. If you’re looking at the train from above, you only see the tracks–unless you’re watching very closely. Project Chameleo is based on a much more technologically advanced version of this very concept: invisibility by adaptive camouflage, like a texture-mapped, technicolor chameleon. That’s one of the simplest examples of the alien technology in this complex and confounding tale. If you’d like to dip your toe in a bit further, The Believer posted this excerpt. As the inimitable Pat Cadigan puts it, “Guffey is my kind of crazy. He understands that the universe is preposterous, life is improbable, and chaos rules: get used to it.”

After the Saucers LandedChaos definitely rules in After the Saucers Landed by Douglas Lain (Night Shade, 2015). It chronicles the biggest letdown one can face: having your dreams come true, but having them be less than dreamy. The aliens that Ufologist Harold Flint had sought his whole life landed in a flurry of B-movie tropes and cringe-worthy clichés. Their arrival turns out to be the least strange thing that happens.

Many of the major Ufologists and alien-abduction researchers get name-checked: Budd Hopkins, Whitley Strieber, J. Allen Hynek, and others, as well as art and creative types like John Cage, Fluxus, and Rudy Rucker (via his book Saucer Wisdom). The verisimilitude makes this story seem all too possible. Having read this directly after Chameleo, I can say that fiction and nonfiction are more difficult to tell apart than ever.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that both of these authors have previous works equally worthy of your attention. In particular, check out Robert Guffey’s Cryptoscatology: Conspiracy Theory as Art Form (Trine Day, 2012) and Douglas Lain’s edited collection In the Shadow of the Towers: Speculative Fiction in a Post 9/11 World (Night Shade, 2015). Weirdness awaits!

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.

Summer Reading List, 2015

The slim slice of the Zeitgeist we capture on the Summer Reading List every year sometimes reveals certain notable nodal points. There are the big releases this year, like Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves and Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Familiar, Volume 1, but Rita Raley’s review of the latter got as many mentions as the book did. This year’s book-to-read is McKenzie Wark’s Molecular Red from Verso, followed closely by Nicole Starosielski’s The Undersea Network from Duke University Press. The oddest recurrence was Paul Ford’s multimedia essay, “What is Code?” from Bloomburg Bussinessweek. Those odd ones are what make this thing interesting.

This year’s list boasts recommendations from newcomers Linda Stone, Benjamin Noys, Nick Ferreira, and Kristin Ross, and regular contributors Richard Kadrey, Lance Strate, Rick Moody, Zizi Papacharissi, Dominic Pettman, Howard Rheingold, Lily Brewer, Christopher Schaberg, Brad Vivian, Peter Lunenfeld, Steve Jones, Matthew Kirschenbaum, Paul Levinson, Alex Burns, Ashley Crawford, and myself.
Lily at Red House Books in Dothan, Alabama
As always unless otherwise noted, titles and covers link to the book at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon: the best bookstore on the planet. Read on!

Powell's Books

Benjamin Noys

I like to read a big non-fiction work over the summer. This summer it’s Anders Enberg-Pederse’s Empire of Chance (Harvard University Press, 2015), which is a study of Napoleon’s military campaigns and how military thinking tries to control the problem of contingency. This was recommended by Derek Gregory, at his excellent blog Geographical Imaginations, and it gives me an excuse to indulge my embarrassing military fetishism with a relatively clean conscience.

TorporMy dose of theory will be Sylvère Lotringer’s long-gestated book Mad Like Artaud (Univocal, 2015), which I hope will be a suitably mad work on the ‘mental dramas’ of Antonin Artaud. This should be read alongside the Chris Kraus’s novel Torpor (Semiotext(e), 2015). Kraus is Lotringer’s ex-wife, and this semi-autobiographical novel, originally published in 2006, tells of the painful gestation of Lotringer’s work on Artaud.

For a summer of poetry and revolution, or revolution and poetry: The Invisible Committee’s To Our Friends (Semiotext(e), 2015) is their first major work since the Glenn Beck baiting Coming Insurrection in 2007 and reflects on the tensions and problems of the wave of struggles since 2007. Verso have reissued The Dialectics of Liberation (Verso, 2015), the collection of papers from the 1967 conference held at the Roundhouse in Camden Town, London, which gathered all the figures of the counter-culture, from R. D. Laing to Stokely Carmichael to consider the question of violence. It’s worth looking at the footage to get a sense of the passionate and violent debates. After Joshua Clover’s excellent Red Epic (Commune Editions, 2015), I’m looking forward to reading the next two poetry books by the Commune Editions triumvirate: Jasper Bernes, We are Nothing and So Can You (Commune Editions, 2015) and Juliana Spahr, That Winter the Wolf Came (Commune Editions, 2015). Diane Di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters (Last Gasp, 2006), underground utopian anarchist poetry of the 1970s, has become a touchstone today.

To end the summer on a truly bleak note, Thomas Ligotti’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe (Penguin, 2015), which reissues two of his rare and expensive collections of harrowing horror fiction, is promised in October.

Kristin Ross

I’m generally reading 3-5 books at the same time, some for research and some for pleasure. My summer reading list is pretty demonstrative of that: It’s a mix of fiction and non-fiction, books and comics.

Warren Ellis just released Cunning Plans (Summon Books, 2015), a collection of his various talks that stretch over a wide range of themes from fiction and science fiction to magic and technology. (Spoiler: they’re really all the same thing.) Ellis is perhaps best known for his comic work, but reading these is a particular delight because his personal voice is even better. It’s a quick read—I burnt through it in two days—but packed with things that will make you think a long time after you finish it.

How to Write About MusicSometimes things sit on my Kindle, lurking, like Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Vintage, 2015). Once I started it, though, I couldn’t stop. The screen soon told me I had “35 minutes left in this book,” and I had to set it down. I had gotten so emotionally attached to the characters and the world, I knew I would be crying as I finished it, and I had plans that night. Couldn’t be crying.

Comics are really exciting right now. The second volume of The Wicked + The Divine (Image Comics) written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Jamie McKelvie comes out on July 14th, so it’s a good time to read Vol. 1: The Faust Act (Image, 2014). Rockstars as actual gods. I’m not going to say more. Need I, even? This is also the team that did Phonogram (Image, 2007) and if you haven’t read that, ignore all my other recommendations and read that first. The long-awaited third volume of that series comes out in August. I’m a fangirl, and this reads like a breathless recitation of my ardor, but I don’t apologize for it.

Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet (Image, 2015) is only on Issue Four, so you should get on that now. The individual issues have essays in the back, a different prominent feminist each time, and those likely won’t be in the first collection. Those essays enhance the whole experience of the story; really, they’re giving a overview of the whole experience of women in these times. Also, the back cover is worth the entire price every time. Did I mention this is about “non-compliant” women being sent to a separate prison planet and they’re about to fight in a televised full-contact sport called Megaton and it’s drawn in 70s sexploitation style?

Then, there are my research books, which have honestly been just as enjoyable lately as my fiction. The 33 1/3 Books team recently released How to Write About Music, a textbook on exactly what it says it’s about. It’s great—educational while being wholly enjoyable and reading it is like taking a course by a great professor. I’m sure it will be used in classrooms, but for solo reading it functions beautifully. Bonus, awesome intro by Rick Moody, a veteran of this reading list.

This last one is very specialized, but if you have any interest in Britpop, it’s essential fun. Part oral history, part timeline of a genre, John Harris’ Britpop!: Cool Britannia and The Spectacular Demise of English Rock (Da Capo, 2004) is entertaining and as complete a history of the rise and fall of Britpop you can find. Plus, it’s just too great to listen to the musicians talk shit on each other.

Lance Strate

I have great admiration for poet and essayist Diane Ackerman, and this summer I plan to dive into her most recent book, The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us (Norton, 2014). I also want to catch up on one of her earlier volumes, Deep Play (Vintage, 1999). And this may seem like something out of left field, but my list includes Revolution for the Hell of It (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1968) by Abbie Hoffman, partly out of sixties nostalgia, but mostly because I understand that Hoffman was under the influence of Marshall McLuhan, among other things, and I’m curious to see how much media ecology he incorporated into his own ideas about subversive activity.

The Human AgeI imagine it would be appropriate to include a book on reading in a reading list, and I’ve included Stanislas Dehaene’s Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read (Penguin, 2009), which comes highly recommended. To balance out a book on literacy, I have also added a book on orality, Myth, Ritual and the Oral (Cambridge University Press, 2010) by the great anthropologist and media ecology scholar, Jack Goody. Of course, reading also includes rereading, and I plan to return to J. T. Fraser’s seminal volume on the study of time, Time: The Familiar Stranger (Tempus Books, 1987), in preparation for a research project I’ll be tackling in the fall.

It seems that the term affordances comes up quite a bit in discussions of technology and media these days, and I think it will be worthwhile to go back to the source, James J. Gibson’s An Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (Psychology Press, 1986), as it also constitutes an important contribution to the media ecology literature. Additionally, I think I’m going to learn a great deal from Zhenbin Sun’s recently published Language, Discourse, and Praxis in Ancient China (Springer, 2015), and I think the time is right for me to tackle Bruce Kodish’s massive Korzybski: A Biography (Extensional Publishing, 2011).

One of the books I am most looking forward to reading is Where Seas and Fables Meet: Parables, Fragments, Lines, Thought (Guernica, 2015), by B. W. Powe, a leading Canadian poet, literary theorist, and media ecologist. Another is J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009). And for a science fiction fix, Paul of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson (Tor, 2008) should do nicely.

Rick Moody

I’ve just finished reading Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature (New Directions), edited by Martin Arias and Martin Hadis, which is in fact exactly what it seems to be, the transcripts of Borges’s classes in English literature delivered in Argentina in 1966. I was so excited to read this book and had to wait through the 14 weeks of my own class in American Experimental Writing to get to it! I was not disappointed! One thing that is wonderful about Borges’s class is how eccentric the topics are: Chaucer barely gets any mention at all, Shakespeare is mainly confined to “Coleridge’s feelings on,” Milton is mentioned a couple of times. On the other hand, the earliest English poems (Beowulf, etc.) come in for several lectures, and Samuel Johnson and Robert Browning get the extended treatment. The course ends with Stevenson, after a cursory nod at Dickens. And so it is apparent that Borges, despite voluminous knowledge about our literary history (which he never learned about at university, because he never attended university), had very idiosyncratic taste in English literature. The second great thing about the book is that Borges can’t really seem to confine himself to the literary subject entirely. So there’s a lot of attention given to what a miserable and foul-looking guy Johnson was, and even more to Coleridge’s abandonment of his wife and the effect of opium on his poetry, and there are ahistorical digressions now and then (In Cold Blood, of all things, makes a brief appearance). This is a gossipy, funny, enthusiastic treatment of the subject, produced by a guy, it’s worth saying, who was entirely blind and unable to read at the time he delivered the lectures, so that they are the record of his memory of these texts. Professor Borges, accordingly, is not really a book about English lit in the dull, good-for-you way, it’s a book about the love of reading, something Borges always stands for, to his credit, and as such it’s 100% delightful. Perfect for any book nerd’s beach reading.

Christopher Schaberg

I’ve just finished reading the philosopher Alphonso Lingis’s book Trust (University of Minnesota Press, 2004), which is a fascinating blend of travel writing and what the late David Foster Wallace might have identified as an experiment in “new sincerity.” It is the kind of book that makes me want to write, and also to observe—and how to balance these impulses becomes a dynamic puzzle, one the book both solves while also flinging all the pieces at the reader.

I was won over by Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness: The End of a Diary (Graywolf Press, 2015), a book that makes the reader question the very premises of the book while persevering and following through to is satisfying conclusion. It is a book that accepts a certain constraint, and stays true to it — and the result is at turns utterly galling and totally admirable. In the end, Manguso throws down a gauntlet for any would-be diarist or journal keeper (really, any ‘author’!): it is a standard of unsettledness, a zombie aspiration for real-time writing.

HotelIf you’ll forgive a bit of aslant self-promotion, Joanna Walsh’s forthcoming Hotel (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015) in the Object Lessons series is a daring act of textual lingering, a vivid mashup of object-oriented thinking and psychoanalytic inquiry. When I first read Walsh’s manuscript I was stunned by its intensity and attentiveness—her book opens up whole new fields of thought and imagination for how a seemingly non-discrete ‘object’ might be accounted for, assembled, and written into. I could go on and on about each of the six Object Lessons books coming out this November, but, moving on…

Finally, Margret Grebowicz’s excellent The National Park to Come (Stanford Briefs, 2015) blew me away. It is a deft articulation and extension of current eco-theory, breaking new ground, as it were, while recognizing the very fraught terms of ‘breaking’, ‘ground’, and other such naturalized metaphors. The book is framed by a personal narrative, which at once complicates and gives passionate nuance to Grebowicz’s project.

Read these!

Zizi Papacharissi

The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media by John Durham Peters (University of Chicago Press, 2015): Because only one person can talk about whales, dolphins, and Heidegger in the same paragraph, and in so doing, help one reimagine the future (and the past or present) of media studies.

How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built by Stewart Brand (Penguin, 1995): Because I am trying to figure out whether technologies learn, and if so, how.

Watch Me: A Memoir by Anjelica Huston (Scribner, 2015): Because she’s a cool cat. And because reading memoirs is the highbrow equivalent of reading gossip mags.

Nick Ferreira

I love the idea of summer reading but for me, summer reading is the same as my reading during the other three seasons: usually a mix of some non-fiction that I flip around, some fiction I hope captures my short attention span, and a bunch of magazines I’m constantly trying to catch up on.

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water by Marc Reisner (Penguin, 1993): I’ve picked this book up multiple times but was never able to finish it. With California’s drought currently (finally?) making national headlines, I decided to pick it up again and am still slowly but surely making my way through. There’s a lot of information here and it’s hard for me to keep track of names, places, dams, rivers, etc. but so far it’s reminded me that places like Southern California wouldn’t exist as we know it without the rerouting/intervention of Western rivers. Side note: I also enjoy reading about these government projects that created some of the most awesome skateboarding and BMX spots in the country.

The Undersea Network by Nicole Starosielski (Duke University Press, 2015): This came into the library I work at recently, and I immediately checked it out. I’m looking forward to spending time learning more about the physical aspects of that seemingly abstract, but very physical thing we rely on everyday.

DaybookDaybook: The Journal of an Artist by Anne Truitt (Scribner, 2013): I’m not sure I really understand Truitt’s sculptures beyond how simple and poetic they are: The slight structures seem like quick flashes of color from a landscape, but only extremely brief slivers of time. I’ve heard from a lot of people that Daybook was one of the best artist’s journals. It’s nice to pickup and read a random entry, especially in the morning.

The Wind from Nowhere by J.G. Ballard (Berkeley Medallion, 1962): Even though J.G. Ballard’s books are quite depressing, I keep coming back to read them. Last sumer I read, High-Rise, a novel about an architect’s failed utopian vision. This summer I plan on reading The Wind From Nowhere. Like most of the Ballard stories I’ve read, this one is deceptively simple: a westward wind, from nowhere, is gaining power throughout the novel forcing people to live underground and completely change their lives. The whole story seems implausible but I’m sure it will be just as frightening as High-Rise and Concrete Island.

Magazines I’m trying to catch up on: The New Yorker, Apartamento, Thrasher, and, N+1.

Linda Stone

The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge (Viking, 2015).
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk (Viking, 2014).
The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer (Grand Central Publishing, 2014).

Paul Levinson

OutlanderMy prime reading plan for this summer is Outlander (Dell), the 1991 time-travel romance by Diana Gabaldon. Why? Well, I’ve been watching, reviewing on my blog, and mostly enjoying the Starz series based on the novel for the past year. I was drawn to the series as a sucker for most things time travel, and by the fact that Ron Moore, the rebooted Battlestar Galactica creator, is the Outlander show-runner on TV. Now, just about every time I criticized something in the TV show, someone would respond with, “You need to read the novel, it’s much better.” I make it a point not the read novels that TV series and movies are drawn from, if I haven’t read them already when the screen presentation begins, because I like to judge the screen story on its own terms. I also have a theory I call “the first love syndrome in media,” which holds that what we love most when a narrative is presented in different media is the one we first experienced — think about it. Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading Gabaldon’s novel this summer, and will be sure to report back to the world when I do.

Ashley Crawford

Brevity. Two astonishing books. Both published in 2015. Both, by eerie coincidence weighing in at 880 pages: Mark Z. Danielewski, The Familiar, Volume 1: One Rainy Day in May (Pantheon) and Neal Stephenson, Seveneves (William Morrow). Both Epic in Scale and in Concept. And, apart from that, they have next-to-nothing in common.

Apart from my ongoing admiration (even adoration) for Ballard, Dick, and Gibson (with the exception of his latest, The Peripheral) my tastes have tended to drift away from Science Fiction, and Seveneves is nothing if not pure Sc-Fi. But, it’s Stephenson, one of the most audacious and ambitious writers around. I have read all of his works and have never failed to be astonished by his knowledge and ability to articulate complex and nerdish concepts while developing remarkable characters and sub-plots, and Seveneves is no exception. An epic space opera in extremis, it begins with an almost Biblical Armageddon when the moon inexplicably explodes, leading to a Science-based form of Rapture for the Chosen.

Stephenson may have destroyed the moon, but according to some, Mark Z. Danielewski is out to destroy the Book, at least according to the NPR review of The Familiar which carries the headline: “Will ‘The Familiar’ Kill The Novel? No, But It Comes Close.” However if anything, judging by all too many whining Amazon reviews, he has succeeded in destroying the Kindle. The Familiar is a much-needed reminder of how beautiful the printed tome can be. It may be more accurate to suggest that Danielewski may well have helped save the printed book. The first volume of a much-ballyhooed 27 “episodes,” it features startling revelations both visually and in terms of ambitious narrative. Bristling with interconnecting voices, it encompasses domestic drama, cyberpunk, crime noir, and pop culture (to his credit Danielewski doesn’t even try to conceal his touchstones, indeed he revels in them). There is a tremendous and thorough analysis of The Familiar at the LA Review of Books worth checking out.

There’s 1,760 pages of Summer contentment.

Dominic Pettman

I hope to inhale as much Vilem Flusser as I can, during the break, since I can’t get enough of these new translations, curated by Siegfried Zielinski. Two titles I haven’t got to yet are through the always The Blondeswonderful Univocal: On Doubt (2014) and The History of the Devil (2014). Roberto Esposito’s Persons and Things (Polity, 2015) is flaring on my radar. Like many other people reading this list, I’m looking forward to McKenzie Wark’s Molecular Red (Verso, 2015) and the two sequels in Eugene Thacker‘s Horror of Philosophy series. Margret Grebowicz’s The National Park to Come (Stanford Briefs, 2015) is sitting on my desk, and I’m a fan of all her work. David Kishik’s The Manhattan Project (Stanford University Press, 2015) in which the author imagines a scenario where Walter Benjamin survived his attempt to escape Europe and spent a couple of decades laying low and writing in New York/- /seems like an intriguing experiment in theory-fiction: something I very much enjoy, when done well. In terms of fiction, I still haven’t read Peter Watt’s Blindsight (Tor Books, 2008), which is apparently required reading for SF people. I’ve heard great things about Mat Johnson’s Pym (Spiegel & Grau, 2012). If I manage to find a beach I’ll probably get to volume two of Elana Ferrante’s Napoli series. And, finally, how could I resist a book with the following premise: “The Blondes (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015) is a hilarious and whipsmart novel where an epidemic of a rabies-like disease is carried only by blonde women, all of whom must go to great lengths to conceal their blondness.”

Howard Rheingold

A a student at Reed in the 1960s, I hitch-hiked to San Francisco in the halcyon days of the hippie incursion and saw the collapse of innocence during the summer of love, moved there permanently in 1970, so I lived through the events — many of them traumatic — chronicled in David Talbot’s book The Season of the Witch (Free Press, 2013) — the horrible response of San Francisco’s City Hall, police and health departments to the hippie immigration, the flowering of the gay community in the days before AIDS and the horror of the epidemic (I’ve never  been fond of Dianne Feinstein as a senator, but Talbot shows how her response as mayor to the AIDS crisis — in light of the Reagan administrations criminal neglect (San Francisco contributed three times the money for social services for AIDS that the US government did for several years), the trauma of the Zebra serial murders, the assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk by Dan White, White’s acquittal (“the Twinkie defense”), the mass murder-suicide at Jonestown. Talbot was a reporter and editor at the San Francisco Examiner when it was a real newspaper, before he founded Salon (I was on the original founding team), and he did a great job digging up the stories behind the stories and weaving them into a compelling narrative history. If you want to know what San Francisco was like before the tech culture, read this.

The advent of inexpensive digital devices, including sophisticated environmental monitoring devices, and networked communications has heralded a new kind of science that melds crowdsourced amateurs with professionals. Michael Nielsen’s Reinventing Discovery (Princeton University Press, 2013) is a well-written, well-documented, must-read if you want to see one surprising new direction science and the discovery and validation of knowledge is going.

One of Stephen King’s best and one of the best time travel stories ever — including a meta-story about the potential effects of time-travel on time itself — is 11/22/63 (Gallery Books, 2012). It is a testament to King’s talent that although we know Lee Harvey Oswald succeeded, readers are suspended in scary, thrilling disbelief as the protagonist repeatedly goes back in time to prevent it. Wrapping it all up is a love story. Great great escape reading.

Steve Jones

As has become usual my summer reading is very much about music. First on the list is Alyn Shipton’s biography of Harry Nilson, Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter (Oxford University Press, 2013), because he was unique, and the one documentary I’ve seen was pretty unsatisfying (interesting, but Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boysunsatisfying). I’m not so much interested in connecting the dots from his life to his music as I am in learning about the milieu in which he found himself. Perhaps somewhat in that same vein I’m planning to read Harvey Kubernik’s Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon (Sterling, 2012), because that was a unique place, interestingly from about the same era. I’m not nostalgic by nature but I am continually fascinated by the conjuncture of people, place and time, and so the next book also fits the pattern, Viv Albertine’s Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.: A Memoir (faber & faber, 2015). Rounding out the list I’ll be indulging my interest in technologies and techniques of sound engineering and synthesis with a work of non-fiction, Glyn Johns’ Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits with The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles , Eric Clapton, The Faces (Blue Rider Press, 2014), and a work of historical (or so I presume) fiction, Seam Michaels’ Us Conductors: A Novel (Tin House Books, 2014).

Lily Brewer

In between paragraphs of thesis, traveling, and moving during my last summer as a pre-Phd student, I’m punctuating my writing and incessant unsettled-ness with the following reading. I’m going to start my list with the books I jump-started my summer with, the first of which was Chris Kraus’ Aliens and Anorexia (Semiotext(e), 2000). It’s idiomatically appropriate for my mid-twenties summer, and her prose once again concusses me and leaves me in a mute heap, incapable of writing ever again. I’m halfway through Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist: Essays (Harper Perennial, 2014), a collection of essays that cries sanctuary for my imperfect feminism and problematic faves. And continuously re-re-re-reading Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost (Penguin, 2006) will never, ever not be appropriate.

Magazine MovementsFor homework, Susan Sontag’s On Photography (Picador, 2001) again, Orit Halpern’s Beautiful Data (Duke University Press, 2015), and Laurel Forster’s Magazine Movements: Women’s Culture, Feminisms and Media Forms (Bloomsbury, 2015) are jostling for priority. (Along with these, I have a massive article and book reading list for the Fall, but I’ll spare you as if I were sparing myself.)

For fun, I’ve compiled Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah: A Novel (Knopf, 2013), Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams: Essays (Graywolf Press, 2014), Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (Granta Publications, 2013), Ali Smith’s The First Person and Other Stories (Penguin, 2008), and for re-reading, Zadie Smith’s anything-she-ever-wrote. Late-August bonus will be Sara Levine’s Treasure Island!!! (Europa, 2011), a Chicago author with whom I was a short-time office mate, (well, while getting my Art History M.A., I was the receptionist to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s writing department office where she was contemporaneously chair, sooo.).

I’m rushing the rest of this list in order to get back to Megan Abbott‘s The Fever (Reagan Arthur/Back Bay, 2015) and afterwords Dare Me (Reagan Arthur/Back Bay, 2013) and after that every novel/story/blog post/tweet Abbott’s written since 2012. The End of Everything (Reagan Arthur/Back Bay, 2011) completely ruined me. Hers are what teenage, girl-nightmares are made of, that make me simultaneously self-conscious and estranged from myself, in the terrifying way that can only accompany growing up.

Matthew Kirschenbaum

Much of my summer reading pile is accumulating in a corner created by media theory or media archaeology, critical discussion of the Anthropocene, and ongoing contributions to the conversation around speculative realism in its several guises. In other words, media, things, and the systems (or stuff) of the planet. These are not, of course, isolate categories but deeply and reciprocally constituted and blended. The Undersea NetworkThus Nicole Starosielski’s The Undersea Network from Duke (2015), which untangles the vast array of telecommunications cables we’ve strapped across the oceans’ floors (arguably the real world-wide web), not just from a technical but also an ethno-geological sensibility. It’s compellingly written and photographed, and my odds-on pick for media studies book of the year. Jussi Parikka’s The Geology of Media (University of Minnesota Press, 2015) opens the field explicitly, walking the reader through a variety of critical and aesthetic discourses that cluster around the deep mining of data mining or what he terms the “Anthrobscene,” a term which is meant to encompass the obscene spectacle of technological obsolescence and media waste. McKenzie Wark’s Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene from Verso (which appeared at almost exactly the same moment) very much demands to be in dialogue with Parikka (and vice versa), dismantling as it does the Romantic notion of a return to nature by way of Russian philosophy and Russian cybernetics and California science fiction (Wark gives us the Carbon Liberation Front as his nonhuman protagonist). For those looking for an introduction to the debates around speculative realism and nonhuman ontologies, Steven Shaviro’s The Universe of Things and Richard Grusin’s edited volume on The Nonhuman Turn (both, again, from the University of Minnesota Press) are essential; similarly, Shaviro (to whom we all seemingly owe a debt for resurrecting the primer as an animated writing genre) has a brief book containing Three Essays on Accelerationism from Minnesota’s Forerunners series. Shaviro’s is in fact one of two breezy Forerunners titles in the stack, the other being Shannon Mattern’s Deep Mapping the Media City, which treats urban environments as no less geo-tech than Starosielski’s oceans and beaches and Wark on the Aral Sea. Further demonstrative in this regard (and just-arrived) is Starosielski and Lisa Parks’s co-edited collection Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures (University of Illinois Press, 2015), containing essays from Mattern, Jonathan Sterne, and Paul Dourish, among others.

Media theory’s romance with drones also continues this season, notably in Adam Rothstein’s succinctly-named Drone (from Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series; 2015) and Grégoire Chamayou’s ambitious but reportedly overwritten A Theory of the Drone (New Press, 2015); of these, I suspect I will prefer the Rothstein. Jeff Scheible’s The Digital Shift: The Cultural Logic of Punctuation (University of Minnesota Press, 2015), is another small, neat-looking book (as befits its subject matter) which zeros-in on dots, parentheses, and hashmarks (but oddly, not the @-symbol). Jeremey Douglass, Mark C. Marino, and Jessica Pressman’s tripartite study of a single piece of electronic literature, Reading Project: A Collaborative Analysis of William Poundstone’s Project for Tachistoscope {Bottomless Pit}, is now available from the Univeristy of Iowa Press (2015). For the Kittler Kidz, meanwhile, worthy of mention is a special journal issue of Theory, Culture & Society on Kittler co-edited by Parikka and Paul Feigelfeld containing an astonishing variety of work (and it’s all currently open accessed—what are you waiting for?), and a new compilation of translated Kittler (with afterword by Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht) entitled The Truth of the Technological World (Stanford University Press, 2014). Finally, Richard Barbrook’s Class Wargames (Minor Compositions, 2014), which draws on the seemingly improbable genre of tabletop wargames for education in the street-level tactics of class struggle; the connection is perhaps less improbable when, as Barbrook details extensively, no less a personage than Guy Debord was an aficionado of the genre, designing his own juex d’guerre.

Deep Mapping the Media CityNot so much summer reading as something I’m reading right now (along with seemingly half my Twitter feed) is Paul Ford’s remarkable “What is Code?” published online in, yes, Businessweek. 38,000 words on not just code but coding culture. Ford is rapidly becoming my favorite technology writer, capable of tossing off lines like “A computer is a clock with benefits” or “You probably have a powerful SQL-driven database in your pocket right now” like it’s nothing.

I’ll leave fiction aside, except to mention Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Familiar (Pantheon, 2015), volume 1 of 27 as anyone who has been following the project knows. If you want a foretaste of what MZD is up to, Rita Raley and colleagues (Raley is perhaps his best current reader) give us a look over in the LA Review of Books.

Finally, military history, my other typical summer reading genre: the Waterloo bicentennial is upon us, and predictably there have been a slew of books on what is habitually termed history’s most iconic battle (a rather ghastly moniker). Timothy Clayton gives us a weighty new history in his Waterloo: Four Days that Changed Europe’s Destiny (Abacus, 2015), drawing on previously unpublished or undocumented sources; Paul O’Keeffe’s Waterloo: The Aftermath (Overlook Press, 2015) begins where the volleys and bayonets end, and treats both the burial of the dead and the residue of the campaign as well as the transformation of the Belgian countryside and subsequent memorialization of the battle. My favorite entry, however is a small little book by Brendan Simms entitled The Longest Afternoon (Basic Books, 2015), which details the King’s German Legion’s defense of the La Haye Sainte farmhouse in the center of the battlefield, a small-unit action embedded amidst the densest concentration of men and guns the Napoleonic Wars had ever seen. Simms gives us something not unlike the grit and detail of Blackhawk Down for the black powder era, while also exploring the significance of what exactly these Germanic troops were doing in the service of Great Britain (and the implications for subsequent German nationalism). If you read one Waterloo book, read this one.

Richard Kadrey

I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of Charles Stross’s new Laundry novel, The Annihilation Score (Ace, 2015). If you don’t know the Laundry books, they follow the adventures of a secret British government organization that protects humanity from all sorts of sinister supernatural forces. The books are funny,action-packed, and smart. The Annihilation Score is hard to talk about without a lot of spoilers, but I can say this: If you like your secret agent stories peppered with dark humor, twisted science, and eldritch horror, you’ll probably enjoy Stross’s newest (and the rest of the Laundry series too).

With Zer0es (Harper Voyager, 2015), Chuck Wendig, most famous for his Miriam Black books, tries his hand at the techno-thriller and does pulls it off nicely. After they’ve all been busted, a group of misfit hackers are brought together in the wilderness to work for the government. However, even though they’re supposed to be working for the good guys, something seems…wrong. And it gets darker and more frightened as the novel goes on. Mixing elements of high-tech thriller and horror, Zer0es is Wendig at his best.

The Bloody ChamberAngela Carter is the best fantasy author you’ve probably never heard of. In The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories: 75th Anniversary Edition (Penguin Classics, 2015), she rewrites old fairy tales, bringing out hidden depths of feminist power, violence, and sexuality. These days, there are dozens of books that rewrite classic folk tales, but Carter was one of the first to do it, and no one out there has matched her combination of intelligence, great writing, and dark sensuality. Some books I’m looking forward to that I haven’t had a chance to read yet include the first collection of Bitch Planet (Image Comics, 2015) by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro. The series is a science-fiction take on the women in prison scenario. Frankly, I would probably skip a book with that premise if it had been written by anyone less savvy than DeConnick, whose Pretty Deadly series (Image, 2014) is also worth reading. I’ve been waiting for Fight Club 2 (Dark Horse, 2015) for months now. Written by Chuck Palahniuk and set ten years after the original novel, it tells the story of a suburban dream home as it comes crumbling down with the reemergence of everyone’s favorite psychotic alter-ego, Tyler Durden.

There are two music books are also on my list. The first is Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll (Tarcher, 2014) and Future Days: Krautrock and the Birth of a Revolutionary New Music (Melville House, 2015). I’m sucker for stories of how modern pop culture has been influenced by and influenced supernatural beliefs, so Season of the Witch is a no-brainer. Future Days covers the emergence of influential post-war bands such as Can, Neu!, Amon Düül II, and Kraftwerk.

I’ve been holding off reading Nick Cave’s The Sick Bag Song (thesickbagsong.com) until I finished writing my new book. Sick Bag is a collection of Cave’s poetic scrawls on airline vomit bags while on tour. Not only do you get the neatly printed finished version of each story/poem, but you get an image of the bags themselves, covered in Cave’s quick and surprisingly controlled handwriting, complete with cross-outs and doodles. LAPD ’53 (Harry N. Abrams, 2015) is a collaboration between James Ellroy and the LA Police Museum. The book is a collection of 50s-era crime scene photos accompanied by Ellroy’s text telling the stories of both the crimes and the cops who worked on them.

Brad Vivian

I plan to read on the theme of indifference throughout the summer in preparation for a collaborative symposium in the fall. The theme also relates to my ongoing research on the topic of witnessing (bearing witness to historical injustice, atrocity, or tragedy). One aspect of my research concerns the degree to which witnesses seek to address and counteract indifference (and larger ethical questions that follow from doing so).

Living with Indifference by Charles E. Scott (Indiana University Press, 2007) is first on my list. Scott (a Continental philosopher who specializes in phenomenological and post-structuralist traditions) provides a deep meditation on the catalysts for and uses of indifference in human experience as it manifests across a number of phenomena. The book emphasizes two features typical of this writer’s work: a careful attention to the etymological origins, as well as semantic elusiveness, of the very term “indifference”; and a balanced but rigorous questioning of conventional moral paradigms as they apply to the notion of indifference—socially, politically, ethically, and existentially. Scott pursues these tendencies across diverse forms of textuality and embodied experience.

I also plan to study Jacques Derrida’s The Gift of Death (University of Chicago Press, 2007). This volume is regarded as some of Derrida’s most thoroughgoing thinking about religion. In comparison with Scott, Derrida focuses on arguably one of the ultimate topics related to indifference in the Western lineage—that of death, in various forms. Derrida concentrates on normative perceptions of responsibility and rationality for the occurrence, response to, and acceptance of death, largely derived from dominant religious traditions. The book has become an essential resource in discussions of indifference—a reflection on the very moral commitments to which something like indifference forms an ostensible antipode—as well as on relevant ethical questions more generally. Derrida characteristically traces the aforementioned issues as they develop across a number of classical and modern philosophical and literary corpuses.

Agamben and Indifference by William Watkin (Rowan and Littlefield, 2014) might also occupy my time during the summer. Watkin’s work approaches the concept of indifference by interpreting it as a consistent thematic that animates much of philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s work. His treatise would thereby provide another distinct vantage on the topic, examining indifference as both a methodological principle of Agamben’s philosophy (allowing ontological, political, judicial, or institutional systems to exist as they are) and a defining characteristic of its analytic objects (a feature of those very systems, in other words). Consistent with Agamben’s work in general, this approach suggests insights regarding the relationship of indifference to human rights, state power, and violence.

Finally, I plan to return (after a previous reading) to philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (City Lights, 2001). The early modern philosopher Spinoza is a crucial reference for much of late twentieth-century Continental thought, especially its post-structuralist iterations. Spinoza’s linkage of ethics and ontology provides a critical precursor for modern strains of Continental thought that question conventional moral paradigms (especially in their most didactic modern forms) and examine questions of self, action, responsibility, and ethics beyond good and evil, as it were. I’m also intrigued, in this case and in general, to the idea of re-reading works that one has previously read—especially challenging philosophical books, which merit periodic or repeated study. Deleuze’s dense prose applied to Spinoza’s highly demanding philosophy combines, in this case, to reward careful re-reading.

Peter Lunenfeld

“The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.” This gets my nomination for the best opening line of the summer. It’s from Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves (William Morrow, 2015), and it and The Peripheral (Putnam, 2014), the new one from William Gibson, are both on my list. Bruce Sterling, also of that generation of SF novelists, once told me that among the odder attributes of his genre was that to be successful, you had to be very good at imaging a world in which not only you but everyone you know and love was either obliterated or had never existed in the first place. Both Stephenson’s apocalypse and the alternate realities scenario that Gibson paints reinforce Sterling’s point.

suburban-warriorsI’m enmeshed in writing a post-WWII narrative history of Los Angeles, so the existence of others is very much with me. On the shelf are Earthquakes, Mudslides, Fires & Riots: California and Graphic Design, 1936-1986 (Metropolis Books, 2014), the brilliant and brilliantly designed new history by Cal Art’s Louise Sandhouse; Davide Fine’s Imagining Los Angeles: A City in Fiction (University of New Mexico Press, 2000); LA native Charles Mingus’s autobiography Beneath the Underdog (Vintage, 1991); Gaye Theresa Johnson’s Spaces of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity: Music, Race, and Spatial Entitlement in Los Angeles (University of California Press, 2013); Lisa McGirr’s classic analysis of Orange County and the John Birch Society, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (Princeton University Press, 2002); and Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past, by William Deverell (University of California Press, 2005), probably the premiere historian of the Southland working today, and also Director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West.

The 20th Century still has the gravitational attraction of a neutron star on our imaginations, so to break away, I’m planning to read The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century (Princeton University Press, 2014) by the German polymath Jürgen Osterhammel. Advance word is that the book is sprawling and panoptic, less a universal history than a multivalent perspective.

To return to the 21st century I’ve been rethinking the relationships between art and technology and have gone back to two foundational texts, both available on-line as pdfs. The first is Maurice Tuchman, Art & Technology; A Report on the Art & Technology Program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1967-1971 (Los Angeles, CA: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1971), which was the first catalogue that Michael Govan had uploaded after he became LACMA’s director. Bookending LACMA’s project is Jack Burnham’s catalogue, Software: Information Technology: Its New Meaning for Art, from his seminal show at the Jewish Museum in 1970.

Finally, even though it’s not a book yet, it soon will be, so I’ll recommend programmer Paul Ford’s multimedia essay, “What is Code?” At 31,375 words, there’s a whole lot to argue with here, but as a whole it’s impressive and I’m willing to bet that it’ll be your best (and probably only) download from Bloomberg Businessweek this summer.

Alex Burns

David Graeber The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy (Melville House, 2015): David Graeber is Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics who coined the Occupy Wall Street slogan “We are the 99%.” I read Graeber’s essay “Dead Zones of the Imagination: An Essay on Structural Stupidity” as a revelation on how bureaucracies rely on asymmetric knowledge to function. The essay “Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit” is both a critique of Western futures studies, and is also an explanation for why research and development ventures often do not lead to actionable social change. Graeber’s Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (Prickly Paradigm Press, 2004) has further insights on how to cultivate counter-power and why anthropological ritual works.

David Harvey The Limits to Capital (Verso, 2006): Harvey is the Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. The 2007-09 global financial crisis and the Great Stagnation (economist Tyler Cowen) has led to a revival of proto-Marxist critiques of the political economy. Harvey’s analysis of demand problems, labour processes, and capitalist organization is amongst the most detailed of these proto-Marxist critiques. The Limits to Capital is a guide to how elite oligarchical collectivism relies on capital accumulation and extractive profit-taking. Increasingly, these processes now underlie the private equity model of asset management now used in Western universities. For a discussion of profit-taking in the context of neoliberal capitalism see David M. Kotz’s The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism (Harvard University Press, 2015). For a comparison with the European Union see Pablo Beramendi, Silja Hausermann, Herbert Kitschelt and Hanspeter Kriesi’s collection The Politics of Advanced Capitalism (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Claudio Cioffi-Revilla Introduction to Computational Social Science: Principles and Applications (Springer, 2014): Claudio Cioffi-Revilla is the Director of the Center for Social Complexity at George Mason University. Computational Social Science (CSS) is an emerging paradigm at the edge of computational intelligence, social science methodology, environmental science, and engineering. Cioffi-Revilla acknowledges Herbert A. Simon’s influence to envision how computation would change the study of social complexity. This guide combines relevant computer science knowledge (such as on the Unified Modeling Language and object-oriented programming) with examples of CSS methods: automated information extraction, social network analysis, social complexity, and social simulations. CSS promises to be an exciting meta-methodology that will advance new approaches to
cumulative knowledge.

Knowledge Representation...Uri Wilensky and William Rand An Introduction to Agent-Based Modeling: Modeling Natural, Social, and Engineered Complex Systems with NetLogo (MIT Press, 2015): Uri Wilensky is Director of the Center for Connected Learning and Computer-Based Modeling at Northwestern University. William Rand is Director of the Center for Complexity in Business at University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. Agent-based models simulate the actions of individual and collective actors to create observable social phenomena and possible systems change. This is the best guide to the NetLogo programming language for agent based models created by Wilensky and which is popular in academic courses. For an alternative introduction to agent-based models see Steven F. Railsback and Volker Grimm’s Agent-Based and Individual-Based Modeling: A Practical Introduction (Princeton University Press, 2012). For agent-based models in the computer programming language Prolog see Michael Gelfond and Yulia Kahl’s Knowledge Representation, Reasoning, and the Design of Intelligent Agents: The Answer-Set Programming Approach (Cambridge University Press, 2014).

David Aronson and Timothy Masters Statistically Sound Machine Learning for Algorithmic Trading of Financial Instruments (CreateSpace, 2013). Algorithmic and high-frequency trading have changed the microstructure of financial markets. This has led to a fierce public debate between proponents (Rishi K. Narang’s Inside The Black Box) and critics (notably Michael Lewis in Flash Boys). Aronson and Masters provide an instruction manual to a black box available from TSSBSoftware.com to trade financial markets using a proprietary machine learning platform. For relevant background on machine learning see Peter Flach’s Machine Learning: The Art and Science of Algorithms that Make Sense of Data (Cambridge University Press, 2012); Kevin P. Murphy’s Machine Learning: A Probabilistic Perspective (MIT Press, 2012); and David Barber’s Bayesian Reasoning and Machine Learning (Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Jeffrey Ma The House Advantage: Playing the Odds to Win Big in Business (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). Jeffrey Ma was part of the MIT Blackjack Team who inspired Ben Mezrich’s book Bringing Down the House (The Free Press, 2003) and the film adaptation 21 (2008). The House Advantage gives Ma the opportunity to address the historical inaccuracies in Mezrich’s book and to explain how the MIT Blackjack Team used probability theory and other mathematical tools to do card counting. This overlooked book indirectly provides an insight into why some Wall Street hedge fund managers had important developmental learning experiences whilst learning blackjack, poker, and backgammon at a young age. It joins a collection of memoirs by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Antifragile), Aaron C. Brown (Red-Blooded Risk and The Poker Face of Wall Street), David Einhorn (Fooling Some People All of the Time), and William Poundstone (Fortune’s Formula) on the strategies that some Wall Street hedge fund managers and risk managers use to cultivate an edge which leads to positive expectancy. Ma’s success can be contrasted with Nathaniel Tilton’s later experiences in The Blackjack Life (Huntington Press, 2012); with Haseeb Qureshi’s approach to expertise cultivation in How to Be a Poker Player: The Philosophy of Poker (Haseeb Qureshi, 2013); with Zachary Elwood’s Reading Poker Tells (Via Regia Publishing, 2012); and with Ole Bjerg’s two books Poker: The Parody of Capitalism (University of Michigan Press, 2011) and Making Money: The Philosophy of Crisis Capitalism (Verso, 2014). For an insider memoir on backgammon and trading using early computer networks on Wall Street see Michael Goodkin’s The Wrong Answer Faster: The Inside Story of Making the Machine That Trades Trillions (John Wiley & Sons, 2012).

Roy Christopher

As Dominic Pettman mentioned above, I am one of the many looking forward to finishing Eugene Thacker‘s Horror of Philosophy trilogy from Zer0 Books. The series includes In the Dust of This Planet from 2011, and the recently released Starry Speculative Corpse (2015) and Tentacles Longer Than Night (2015). I finished the former a few weeks ago and can’t wait to dig into the two follow-ups. In addition to my interest in Ken Wark’s Molecular Red (Verso, 2015), I’ve also been picking up titles based on his recommendations posted in various places online. Two such titles are the collections Savage Messiah (Verso, 2011) and Cosmonauts of the Future (Nebula/Autonomedia, 2015). The former is a compilation of Laura Oldfield Ford’s zines of the same name, introduced by the inimitable Mark Fisher. The latter is the collected texts of the Situationists in Scandanavia “and elsewhere,” edited by Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen and Jakob Jakobson. They’re both full of applied poetry: the kinds of fragments, aphorisms, and images that ring in your head long after the book is closed. One of my favorites from Cosmonauts…: “The culture industry makes people believe that they participate in culture” (p. 129).

Savage MessiahI just cracked open Dissent: The History of an American Idea by Ralph Young (NYU Press, 2015), and so far it looks like it lands somewhere between Howard Zinn’s A People’s History… (Harper Perennial, 2005) and Cass R. Sunstein’s Why Societies Need Dissent (Harvard University Press, 2003). I came across Young’s massive historical text via an excerpt about the weird 1990s, connecting Ted Kaczynski with Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975), which makes all kinds of sense, but I’d never seen it done.

Aside from the latest from the usual suspects, I’ve been collecting dusty, old paperbacks by several dusty, old authors. Most notably Robert Sheckley, who  is an underrated master of the short story. His stories remind me of my first glimpses into these weird worlds via Harlan Ellison, back before I was much of a reader. Semiotext(e)’s SF anthology (AK Press, Edinburgh 1989), co-edited by Rudy Rucker, Peter Lamborn Wilson, and Robert Anton Wilson, includes selections from Sheckley’s Amsterdam journal. Here’s one for the writers we like to read and the ones we aspire to write like:

Good fiction is never preachy. It tells its truth only by inference and analogy. It uses the specific detail as its building block rather than the vague generalization. In my case it’s usually humorous — no mistaking my stuff for the Platform Talk of the 6th Patriarch. But I do not try to be funny, I merely write as I write. In the meantime I trust the voice I can never lose — my own. The directions of its interest may change, even by morning. But what does that matter if I simply follow them, along for the trip rather than the payoff (always disappointing), enjoying writing my story rather than looking forward to its completion. Wise-sounding words which I hope describe where I’m really at.

——————

Many, many thanks to all of the contributors above new and old, and to the invited who didn’t have time to contribute but responded to say so: Tricia Wang, danah boyd, Jeffrey Sconce, Mark Amerika, Michelle Rae Anderson, Mark Fisher, Dave Tompkins, Jeff Noon, and Chris Kraus. Next year!

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.

Blank Solitude: The Alien Gaze of Under the Skin

Somehow over the past decade or so, Scarlett Johansson has emerged in film as the ultimate human. She shook Bob Harris (Bill Murray) out of a late-life lull in Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003). She repeated Logan’s Run in The Island (2005). She’s the voice of the artificially intelligent operating system in Spike Jonze’s her (2013). She transcends her own brain and body in the woefully disappointing Lucy (2014). And she is rumored to be starring in the live-action version of Ghost in the Shell, which is currently in production. In short, when we think of machine-aided human perfection, Johansson is what we picture.

Scarlett Johansson: Under the Skin

The photographic lens makes you immediately indifferent to yourself — you inwardly play dead. In the same way, the presence of television cameras makes what you are saying seem alien or a matter of indifference  — Jean Baudrillard, Cool Memories IV

Johansson begins an interview with Tim Noakes at Dazed & Confused magazine reading from Jean Baudrillard‘s America, his collection about feeling an alien in a foreign land. It’s a famous quotation about smiling from page 34. Further down that same page, Baudrillard (1988) writes,

The skateboarder with his walkman, the intellectual working on his wordprocessor, the Bronx breakdancer whirling frantically in the Roxy, the jogger and the body-builder: everywhere, whether in regard to the body or the mental faculties, you find the same blank solitude, the same narcissistic refraction (p. 34).

Under the SkinJohansson plays a man-eating alien visitor in Jonathan Glazer’s stunning 2014 film, Under the Skin (A24), what Lucy Bolton describes as “a viewing experience that is mediated by the emotional, moral and corporeal alien eye” (p. 1). While Glazer’s adaptation is an intriguing interpretation, Faber’s original novel (Harcourt, 2000) is versatile, lending itself to many others. Taken in tandem though, they inform each other. “[The Book] was a jumping-off point,” Glazer tells Chris Alexander at Fangoria. (p. 43). “Under the Skin is trying to represent something kind of unimaginable—this infinite and alien entity,” he says. “It’s not something for words, really. It shouldn’t be explained away. Our intention was to protect its alienness” (p. 45).

Johansson often feels an alienness herself. “When I finish work,” she tells Dazed, “I just want to get as far away from it as possible. It’s like, ‘Okay, we’re done, let me try to regain my sense of self!’… I’ve certainly had roles which have become all-encompassing, when I’ve been like, ‘Whoa, where’s my life?’, and felt like the floor had been swept from underneath me. But the more experience you have, the less carried away you get.” (p. 128X). As one review parenthetically notes, “The film is nothing if not a knowing, subversive use of Johansson’s celebrity and screen persona.”

Glazer says of her performance, “When she saw the film she said to me that she didn’t recognise what she was doing in it… she said she had no idea what was going on in her mind at any point” (p. 130). In a film so focused on alienation, it’s interesting that Johansson felt it as the actor, as the alien, and as the viewer of this film. Through the lens, the narcissistic refraction: The alien gaze turned in upon itself.

Baudrillard (2003) continues, “When some future scientist expresses the idea that the generations of clones and artificial beings that succeed us are descended from man [sic], it will be as terrible a shock as when Darwin announced that man was descended from the apes” (p. 107).

References:

Alexander, Chris. (2014, May). The Skin He’s In. Fangoria Magazine, #322, pp. 42-46.

Baudrillard, Jean. (1988). America. New York: Verso.

Baudrillard, Jean. (2003). Cool Memories IV: 1995-2000. New York: Verso.

Bolton, Lucy. (2014, January). Under the Skin and the Affective Alien Body. In Film-Philosophy Conference 2014: A World of Cinemas.

Noakes, Tim. (2014, Spring). Under the Skin of Scarlett Johansson. Dazed & Confused, p. pp. 118-131.

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.

Scanning the Skies for Daylight Deities

Belief in aliens is often used as a trope on television and movies to signify instability or insanity. The hundreds of accounts available consist largely of unverifiable evidence and arguments that are shaky at best. Many of the reporters of alien phenomena seek to find them. Their seeking is “wishful thinking” in the words of Carl Jung (1964, p. 69). Yet, in his one book on the subject, Jung (1978) admits that “a purely psychological explanation is illusory, for a large number of observations point to natural phenomenon, or even a physical one” (p. 132). “Something is seen, but we don’t know what,” he adds (p. 136). The witnesses fall into a few distinct categories: those prone to fantasy and self-delusion (of course), those who are awake and outdoors at odd hours (security staff and police officers), and those attuned to the skies (pilots and air traffic controllers). My dad is one of the latter:

Me: How long have you been working in air traffic?

Dad: 43 years total.

Me: Have you ever seen a UFO?

Dad: Not that I can document, but I’ve seen a couple of things I had no other explanation for other than maybe a reflection of light.

I want to believe.

The best way to prepare for the future is to keep an eye on the sky. That’s where everything else is not. Meanwhile, information pours invisibly across its friendly expanse, and it is up to us to absorb as much of it as our systems can tolerate. — Ted Mooney’s Easy Travel to Other Planets

The descriptions in the many reports I’ve read seem either embellished or evasive, imbued with insistence depending on how much the witness wants to believe. There’s just no way to tell if anyone has actually seen anything. The very designation “unidentified flying object” is so ambiguous as to be nearly useless. The Condon Report (1969), the culmination of all of the Air Force’s investigations into so-called sightings (e.g., Project Sign, Project Grudge, Project Blue Book, etc.), defines a UFO as follows:

An unidentified flying object is here defined as the stimulus for a report made by one or more individuals of something seen in the sky (or an object thought to be capable of flight but seen when landed on earth) which the observer could not identify as having ordinary natural origin, and which seemed to him [sic] sufficiently puzzling that he [sic] undertook to make a report of it… (p. 9).

In filing the report, one is saying that the sighting was “sufficiently puzzling” enough to file the report. It’s not so much defining what a UFO is as it’s defining what filing the report means. The Air Force either took the reports seriously enough or just received so many of them that they had to make them the subject of several official projects. Ex-Project Blue Book member Fritz Werner (not his real name) said in an interview that Blue Book existed because the Air Force “was getting too much publicity and there were too many people, other than official people seeing things and reporting them” (quoted in Randle, 1995, p. 58).

Heaven's GateSome such reporters, as in the case of cults like Heaven’s Gate, build religions around their search for truth. Balch and Taylor’s germinal 1976 Psychology Today article “Salvation in a UFO” describes Heaven’s Gate members as “metaphysical seekers”: “Before joining [Heaven’s Gate], members of the UFO cult had organized their lives around the quest for truth. Most defined themselves as spiritual seekers” (p. 60).

In Heaven’s Gate: America’s UFO Religion (NYU Press, 2014), Benjamin E. Zeller concurs. In and out of other such groups before settling with Heaven’s Gate, the founders and members could all be described as seekers. Zeller’s study of his subject is through religious scholarship. Contra the media’s reports of Heaven’s Gate’s mass suicides in March of 1997, Zeller writes, “Heaven’s Gate emerged out of two theological worlds: Evangelical Christianity and the New Age movement, particularly the element of the New Age movement concerned with alien visitation and extraterrestrial contact. The movement’s leaders and members certainly drew from a broad array of influences, including secular ufology, science fiction, and conspiracy theories, in addition to their religious influences. Yet ultimately the group’s theology was a Christian one, as read through a New Age interpretive lens” (p. 65). The New Age aspect included the belief that in synchronized suicide, they were to board a UFO following the Hail-Bopp comet to salvation.

Where Jung saw the UFO phenomenon as seekers longing for a more complete life, Michael Heim (1998) sees it as “technology sickness” (p. 182). Heim (1993) posited Alternate World Syndrome (AWS): The switching between virtual and real worlds highlights the merging of technology with the human species, an extremely alien feeling we have yet to assimilate. It’s the ontological jet lag that comes from visiting or envisioning another, alien world. Heim (1998) writes, “The fascination and pain of the UFO phenomenon shows us only the first glimpse of our ultimate merger with technology” (p. 197).

The Secret Space AgeFrom merging with technology to escaping the end of the world, The Secret Space Age (Adventures Unlimited Press, 2014) tells the story of a parallel space program bent on abandoning Earth before the Apocalypse. The book follows the controversy behind Alternative Three (1977), a film that supposedly shows the development of alternative settlements on the Moon and Mars. Written with the language and excitement of a senior thesis, The Secret Space Age is a fun romp through conspiracy theories of all kinds. It’s less about aliens coming here and more about our leaving. As Michael Heim (1998) puts it, “What a thrill to feel the tug of war on the thin thread of shared belief!” (p. 174). A tug of war indeed: Out for some person-on-the-street verisimilitude on the reported sightings at O’Hare International in 2007, WGN Reporter Juan Carlos landed a minute and a half with this seeker of truth:

hoytrHE821o

References:

Balch, Robert W. & Taylor, David. (1976). Salvation in a UFO. Psychology Today, 10(5), 58-60.

Heim, Michael. (1993). The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality. New York: Oxford University Press.

Heim, Michael. (1998). Virtual Realism. New York: Oxford University Press.

Jung, Carl G. (1964). Man and His Symbols. New York: Bantam.

Jung, Carl G. (1978). Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Mooney, Ted. (1981). Easy Travel to Other Planets. New York: Ballantine Books, p. 74.

Philips, Olav. (2015). The Secret Space Age. Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press.

Randle, Kevin D. (1995). A History of UFO Crashes. New York: Avon Books.

Zeller, Benjamin E. (2014). Heaven’s Gate: America’s UFO Religion. New York: NYU Press.

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.

Peripheral-Vision Man: William Gibson

William Gibson’s first and most celebrated novel was published 30 years ago. I first read Neuromancer (Ace, 1984) in the fall of 1999, halfway between here and there. I had just dropped out of graduate studies at the University of Georgia’s Artificial Intelligence program and was trying to figure out what to do next. In the meantime, I was running the interview website that would eventually become my first book. Since those inauspicious beginnings, William Gibson has always been at or near the top of my most-wanted interviews.

William Gibson

It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future. — William Gibson

Conversations with William GibsonIn lieu of a face-to-face sit-down with The Man, Patrick A. Smith has compiled interviews with Gibson from most of his career. Thanks to interviewers asking many of the same questions over the years, these Conversations with William Gibson (University Press of Mississippi, 2014) run over and over the same ground, and many are interesting in spite of—and some because of—that. Twenty-three interviews being conducted by different people intermittently over about as many years often gives what would be the same question a new answer. Moreover, there are a few absolutely essential reads included: Andy Diggle and Iain Ball’s previously unpublished talk with Gibson from 1993, Edo van Belkom’s obscure 1997 interview, and Alex Dueboen’s interrogation of Gibson’s writing process from 2007. Also, the 30-page David Wallace-Wells interview originally published in The Paris Review #197 in 2011 is probably the best interview with Gibson anywhere—Kodwo Eshun’s unpublished 1996 interview notwithstanding.

Regardless, Gibson’s insights abound. Like his last book, Distrust That Particular Flavor (Putnam Adult, 2012), this one collects its pieces from across the web and print publications: websites, magazines, and zines, some out of print and a few never printed before. Both books are huge steps in revealing the many deep and relevant thoughts of a man mainly known for only a few big ones. Here are several from these conversations:

  • 1997: “To me, ambivalence seems the only sane response [to technology]. Technophobia doesn’t work, and neither does technophilia. So you don’t want to be a nerd, and you don’t want to be a Luddite, you have to try to straddle the fence and just make constant decisions” (p. 133).
  • 1999: “I think Brian Eno‘s right in defining culture as everything we do that we don’t absolutely need to do… I look at what people are doing—particularly if they’re doing it passionately—that they don’t need to do” (p. 149).
  • 1999: “To the extent that I can still believe in Bohemia, which I think is important to me in some way that I don’t yet really understand, to the extent that I still believe in that, I have to believe that there are viable degrees of freedom inherent if not realized in interstitial areas” (p. 154).
  • 1999: “Where is our new stuff going to come from? What we’re doing pop culturally is like burning the rain forest. The biodiversity of pop culture is really, really in danger. I didn’t see it coming until a few years ago, but looking back it’s very apparent” (p. 158).
  • 2007: “In those early days of broadcast television, you were a little kid walking around and holding these two realities at the same time in your head” (p. 185).
  • 2011: “Cities look to me to be our most characteristic technology. We didn’t really get interesting as a species until we became able to do cities—that’s when it all got really diverse, because you can’t do cities without a substrate of other technologies” (p. 222).

My to-read stack also grew a book or several after reading these interviews. Ted Mooney’s Easy Travel to Other Planets (FSG, 1981) and Manny Farber’s Negative Space (Studio Vista, 1971) are mentioned several times, along with Thomas Pynchon, Dashiell Hammett, Bruce Sterling, and J. G. Ballard.

William Gibson: The PeripheralSpeaking of Pynchon, Gibson has always cited him as an influence, rebutting claims of his following Philip K. Dick. Given Gibson’s recent flirtation with the recent past, Pynchon’s latest, Bleeding Edge (Penguin, 2013), reads more like it was influenced by Gibson’s last trilogy than the other way around. I loved the way Gibson was able to describe our present like it was/is science fictional (proving the point that he, Frederick Jameson, and others have made about “futuristic” science fiction actually being about the moment in which it was written), but it’s good to see him projecting again. I’ve read all of his books since taking the plunge 15 years ago, and I recently reread that first one. I am back in graduate school and glad to be able to read another.

The Peripheral (Putnam Adult, 2014) leaps ahead again, the 22nd century making up at least one of the worlds in its pages. So far it feels more light than dark, but that may just be his lulling me into it with his trademark descriptions with sparse details, gaping breadth with needle-focused minutiae. Without giving too much away, I will say that it reads more like Neuromancer than it does Spook Country (my favorite of all of his novels). It has the giddy unease of the former tempered by the veteran hand of the latter. It’s both energy and nuance. Parsing Gibson’s paragraphs is a challenge again—and that much more fun for it.

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William Gibson white-out portrait by Roy Christopher. [01072014]

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.

The Short End of the Story

Before I became a certified, book-carrying reader, I dabbled in short stories. I had tried diving headlong, headstrong into novels, but I couldn’t keep up. I’d start one before bed, not read for a few nights, and end up lost when I returned. I wouldn’t be able to hold it all in my head. I’d lose the plot, the characters, and my momentum.

Angry CandyThe solution I found at the time was reading short stories. I came across a mention of Harlan Ellison‘s Angry Candy (Houghton Mifflin, 1988) in Scott Davidson’s GUS zine, and I went looking. I found a copy at a long-since-defunct used bookstore on 84 East in Wicksburg, Alabama. After falling asleep to speculative tales like “Escapegoat,” “On the Slab,” “Laugh Track,” and the post-print “The Region Between,” I gained an extreme admiration for the brevity with which Ellison was able to boil my brain.

After devouring more of Ellison and the science-fiction stories in OMNI, I eventually moved on to longer forms. My respect for the short story never wavered though. Now that Ellison writes more litigation than literature, I’ve come across several other adept authors of the shorter form worthy of mention. Summer might be the time for longer reads, but I still find myself pulling back to graze.

Most recently, Leaving the Sea: Stories (Knopf, 2014) by Ben Marcus, whose last novel, The Flame Alphabet (Knopf, 2012), is one of my favorite reads of any kind in the past few years. I’m only just diving into Leaving the Sea, but his previous story collection, The Age of Wire and String (Dalkey Archive, 1995), stays by my bedside. Though much more sparse than anything he’s written in the nearly twenty years since, its inspiration is endless.

In Pump Six and Other Stories, Paolo Bagigalupi (Night Shade Books, 2010), author of the fabulous The Windup Girl (Night Shade Books, 2010), is able to write in times and places that do not exist, yet exist all around us—including the odd ontology of The Windup Girl (see “The Calorie Man” and “Yellow Card Man” in this collection). These are eerily adjacent possibles, and like the best science-fiction authors (I’m thinking specifically of Sterling and Gibson—see their collections, and A Good Old-Fashioned Future and Burning Chrome, respectively—as well as the aforementioned Ellison), he seems to be reporting back from them.

If How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (Vintage, 2011) was Charles Yu’s arrival, then Sorry Please Thank You: Stories (Pantheon, 2012) is his journey. Much of the brilliance of that book is preluded here. “Troubleshooting,” written to mimic an actual troubleshooting guide, is especially sparse and poignant.

The Sovereignties of InventionI’ve spent the last couple of years corresponding with Brian McFarland. Scarcely a day goes by that we don’t volley several email threads. McFarland runs the Cursor-powered, indie-book publisher Red Lemonade, which is more of a publishing platform than a traditional imprint. It’s a community effort. So far they’ve unleashed Happy Talk by Richard Melo, Zazen by Vanessa Veselka, Follow Me Down by Kio Stark, The Sovereignties of Invention by Matthew Battles, and Someday This Will Be Funny, as well as several others, by Lynne Tillman. I asked publishing gadfly and Cursor boss Richard Nash how he came to work with McFarland. “It was a combination of three things really,” he told me, “his curiosity about non-traditional writing, his passion for doing things differently, and his eagerness to connect. I think I also wanted someone from outside the existing world of publishing, someone who would approach it knowing almost nothing of the status-quo ante. Fresh fresh fresh!”

“Three times fresh” is exactly how I’d describe the stories in The Sovereignties of Invention (Red Lemonade, 2012) by Matthew Battles. With a stream-of-consciousness recording device, the books title tract, “The Sovereignties of Invention,” is sort of a “Funes, the Memorious” for the iPod set (iFunes?), a pocket-size external harddrive for the mind’s every moment. As that one, “The Dogs in the Trees,” “The Manuscript of Belz,” “Camera Lucida,” and “I After the Cloudy Doubly Beautifully” all illustrate, the nominal number of pages (the whole book barely breaks the 100-page mark) needed for Battles to rearrange my mind and the world it’s in is simply amazing and reminiscent of my initial experiences with Harlan Ellison and short fiction in general. It even spawned its own book of reader responses.

All of the above is to suggest that the short story can possess all the complexity or potential for impact as its longer counterparts. If you’re not currently a big reader, one of these collections may be just the door you’ve been looking for.

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Special thanks to Scott Davidson for championing Harlan Ellison way back when, to Ashley Crawford for the tip on Ben Marcus, and to Brian McFarland for so many emails, links, and laughs.

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.

Summer Reading List, 2014

As school finally releases its grip on our attention and summer eases in around us, it’s time to peruse book pages for pleasure. If you’re like me, you’re still working through stuff from last year’s list. As my friend Kristin Ross tweeted recently, “Lately when I think about my mortality, the primary sadness I feel is in regards to all the books on my ‘to-read’ shelf.” We may never get to them all, but here are 2014’s summer recommendations.

Lily upstairs at Myopic Books in Chicago.
Lily upstairs at Myopic Books in Chicago.

This year’s list boasts newcomers Christopher Schaberg, Brian McFarland, and Alice Marwick, as well as veteran Summer Reading Listers Ashley Crawford, Lance Strate, Mark Amerika, Brad Vivian, Lily Brewer, Peter Lunenfeld, Alex Burns, danah boyd, Steve Jones, Zizi Papacharissi, Dominic Pettman, Benjamin Bratton, and myself. As usual, unless otherwise noted, the book links will lead you to the book’s page on the Powell’s site, the greatest bookstore on the planet.

Lance Strate

At the top of my reading list for this summer is On Reflection: An Essay on Technology, Education, and the Status of Thought in the Twenty-First Century (Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2013) by Ellen Rose, an outstanding scholar. And speaking of great scholars, I have Elizabeth L. Eisenstein’s most recent work, Divine Art, Infernal Machine: The Reception of Printing in the West from First Impressions to the Sense of an Ending (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011) high up on my stack as well.

Marshall McLuhan and Northrop FryeI am also looking forward to reading B. W. Powe’s important study, Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye: Apocalypse and Alchemy (University of Toronto Press, 2014). This looks to be a summer for biographical and semibiographical works, as I also have lined up In Thought and Action: The Enigmatic Life of S. I. Hayakawa (University of Nebraska Press, 2011) by Gerald W. Haslam with Janice E. Haslam, and Appletopia: Media Technology and the Religious Imagination of Steve Jobs (Baylor University Press, 2013) by Brett T. Robinson, as well as The Science of Leonardo: Inside the Mind of the Great Genius of the Renaissance (Anchor, 2007) by Fritjof Capra.

I’ve picked up some second hand books that I intend to enjoy this summer, including two from Ralph Waldo Emerson. One is a stray volume of his collected works that combines two of his major publications, The Conduct of Life and Society and Solitude (Macmillan, 1910). The other is Ralph Waldo Emerson: Essays and Journals (Programmed Classics, 1968), selected and with an introduction by Lewis Mumford (which alone is worth the price of purchasing the book). And then there’s Understanding Understanding (Harper & Row, 1974), by Humphrey Osmond, with John A. Osmond and Jerome Agel, which I am understandably curious about.

For poetry, I can’t wait to delve into the long awaited volume from Dale Winslow, Tinderbox (NeoPoiesis, 2013). And in graphic novels, there’s Volume 21 of The Walking Dead, real brain food that I’ll no doubt gobble up in one sitting when it comes out in a few weeks.

Christopher Schaberg

The Forest Unseen by David George Haskell (Penguin, 2013) charts “a year’s watch in nature”—the author goes out to the same small plot of forest every day over the course of a year, and reflects on being (and non-being) at myriad scales. Haskell calls this place the “mandala”: seen in a certain way, it’s like a microcosm of the universe. The book reminded me of object-oriented ontology put into practice. In other words, it’s a work of praxis: an experiment in constraint and wonder, with the fruits (or more precisely, flora and fauna) of this endeavor recorded in sprightly prose.

But what if the mandala were not a spot in the woods, but a color? And what if the temporal frame were not a year but ongoing, indeterminate and blurry? Maggie Nelson’s Bluets (Wave Books, 2009) reflects on blue hues across literary, artistic, and philosophical registers, and as the color shoots through her own life in ways that are at turns visceral and vaporous, ambient and affective. The book unfolds as a sequence of playfully (il)logical propositions, at once echoing Wittgenstein while venturing into new poetic territory.

Prismatic EcologyJeffrey Jerome Cohen has taken the impulse to color in another direction. His searching edited collection Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory Beyond Green (University of Minnesota Press, 2014) does exactly what it’s title says: It pushes way beyond traditional “green” readings of nature, environment, and ecology. The chapters find deep reservoirs of semiotic value and biotic interplay across the spectrum of colors, reaching into perceptual zones as seemingly unnatural and alien as x-ray and ultraviolet. Collectively, this book comprises a tour de force that could be the core of an entire seminar on cutting edge environmental theory. (I plan to adopt the book this way in an environmental humanities seminar at Loyola University New Orleans in the near future.)

Of course a more traditional way to go about ecological thinking is to ground it in place. Jim Harrison’s latest collection of novellas, The River Swimmer (Grove Press, 2014), revolves around my own home region of northern Michigan. The two novellas in this collection (“The Land of Unlikeness” and “The River Swimmer”) are paragons of the form; even as their plot lines unravel typical (for Harrison) male fantasies and nativist wish images, the stories are gently hilarious, disturbingly violent, softly sublime, and eerily haunting. Harrison has a way with the novella that exhibits incredible formal control and concision, even as the stories sprawl out to epic and even magical proportions. Throughout each story, the aura of Michigan seeps through details as striking and elusive as the spring marshy air, the texture of river currents, and rare bird calls.

Another geography I recently found myself reading about, somewhat unexpectedly, was New York City. Thomas Beller’s new biography of J.D. Salinger (subtitled The Escape Artist; New Harvest, 2014) suggests that the landscape and atmosphere of New York shaped Salinger’s writing and consciousness to a large degree. I don’t know the city terribly well, and I have not read a single work of fiction by Salinger (I know, I know!), but the fact that Beller manages to lure me into and guide me through these intertwined (and to me, unfamiliar) topographies speaks to a certain ecological acuity present in the book. But it’s an eccentric ecology, attuned to human culture and the patterns and quirks of things like publishing, personae, and literary production. To call this biography ‘ecological’ may sound strange, but it’s precise in the sense that Beller breaks from a simple, linear-narrative biography and develops something more networked, something more (to recover a theoretical term perhaps overused but still apt here) rhizomatic.

Alice Marwick

I read two kinds of books during the summer: academic books that get me jazzed about research, and anything page-turnery I can read on my Kindle while lying around in the sun.

I’m in an academic book club and by far our favorite title this year was Alice Goffman’s On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (University of Chicago Press, 2014). It’s a mind-blowing ethnography of young black men in a poor neighborhood in Philadelphia, and how the constant intrusion of the police and penal system systematically undermines their familial and romantic relationships. Goffman is a really gifted writer, and her book not only hammers home the horrific social impact of American mass incarceration of African-American youth, but includes a methods chapter where she discusses how living in a primarily black, masculine environment for six years affected her own subjectivity and relationship to academia. It’s the rare academic book I can’t put down and I would recommend it to anyone.

Goffman’s book has inspired me to finally read legal scholar Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, 2012) which tackles the same issues from a legal perspective. Alexander examines how today’s legal system has perpetrated systemic African-American disenfranchisement and inequality, much like the Jim Crow laws of years past.

The Democratic SurroundNext on the list after that is Fred Turner’s The Democratic Surround (University of Chicago Press, 2013), which I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read yet considering what a huge influence Turner’s smart, literate histories of the 20th century have been on my own work.

In fiction, my favorite discovery of the year was the Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein. I’m a huge fan of science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction, but I get very irritated by writers who can imagine a world with cybernetic augmentation, mass terraforming, etc. etc. but can’t get beyond run-of-the-mill patriarchy. Kirstein’s Steerswomen are scholars who travel around their realm, making detailed maps and observations about the natural environment. This, of course, deeply appealed to me as a social scientist, and I loved seeing Rowan, the chief steerswoman, use her version of the scientific method to puzzle through the various trials and tribulations that come her way. While the setting seems at first to be your typical medieval fantasy world, Kirstein expertly reveals throughout the series that it may be more than it seems. A fantastic, engaging series that is simultaneously nerdy and feminist. I can’t recommend these books highly enough, especially now that the rights have reverted to Kirstein and she’s released them all as ebooks.

I’m also planning on reading the second volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, which is also speculative fiction but from an almost Lovecraftian perspective. The first book, Annihilation (FSG Originals, 2014), described a team of scientists sent out to explore the abandoned Area X. Why it was abandoned, who commissioned the expedition, and what happened to the previous teams remains a mystery, but the sense of dread that sets in as you watch the biologist, the anthropologist, the psychologist, and the surveyor—all women—navigate the uncertainty of the landscape. Without putting too fine a point on it, this book creeped me the hell out. The second book, Authority (FSG Originals, 2014), focuses on the institutional apparatus that supports the expeditions, which doesn’t sound terrifying but I’m hoping doesn’t lose the momentum of the first.

Other than that, I’ll be finally trying to finish The Goldfinch (Little, Brown & Co., 2013), which is like half of a really good book interspersed with a lot of boring short stories, catching up on various mystery, sci-fi, and dystopian series that have new books out, and perhaps making a dent in my “to read” PDF folder. Preferably while out in the sun.

Brian McFarland

Krysztof Michalski’s The Flame of Eternity (Princeton University Press, 2013) provides a reexamination and new interpretation of Nietzsche’s philosophy and the central role that the concepts of eternity and time, as he understood them, played in it.

If you read this as a confused teenager seeking power amid your angst, this book will remind you of the joy and freedom that was embedded within all that poetry. While reading I had that rare joy (that only books can provide) of remembering a former self experiencing a book and transforming that experience by re-visiting the text again. That’s not so clear, but Krysztof Michalski had the same fascination with passages that confounded my younger self- and here I was years later remembering that confusion and achieving understanding of it many years later. A powerful read and the author does a nice job of making difficult concepts clear.

Bradford Vivian

This summer, I’m studying various books on the subject of witnessing. Last year, I researched treatises on time and politics and, presently, I’m seeking to analyze the rhetoric of witnessing in light of temporality and the politics of time. To that end, my summer reading list features works that approach witnessing from unconventional angles and, in so doing, attempt to understand it in novel ways.

Kelly Oliver’s Witnessing: Beyond Recognition (University of Minnesota Press, 2001) illustrates one of the best features of her writing in general: her ability to connect canonical philosophical concepts and lineages to the concrete realities of public and political affairs. Here, she relates the Hegelian politics of recognition to conventional humanitarian, moral, or political discourse that assumes one witnesses in order to identify the basis for some common humanity and historical experience. Oliver helpfully pushes our approach to witnessing beyond recognition, in whatever form, as its guiding telos.

In this context, I also plan to closely study Jacques Derrida’s Sovereignties in Question: The Poetics of Paul Celan (Fordham University Press, 2005). This text is reputed to feature many of Derrida’s customary deconstructive topoi-my interest resides, in particular, in the extent to which that his reflections throughout Sovereignties are said to echo his remarks on impossibility and possibility elsewhere regarding related topics-specifically, forgiveness and mourning. That is, I’m interested in his understanding of how the impossibility of something like witnessing, forgiveness, or mourning might nonetheless accomplish productive ethical and political work.

The Generation of PostmemoryFinally, I’ll be preoccupied with Marianne Hirsch’s The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust (Columbia University Press, 2012). In this text, Hirsch takes up a line of thought that others have begun to explore in their own scholarship (notably Celia Lury in Prosthetic Culture and Alison Landsberg in Prosthetic Memory): namely, the degree to which one can remember someone else’s memories. Many discourses of witnessing presuppose that memories may somehow be affectively transferred from survivors or participants in history to future generations who did not witness the original events. This kind of work necessarily involves reflections on the communication of memory via literature, art, and media while raising important questions about the ethics and politics of witnessing.

Lily Brewer

I graduated from my SAIC Art History graduate program last May, and within the first 25 days of said graduation, starved for novels, I had read 15 novels, textbooks, and other non-fictions: I feel I have read all the great books already, but will continue to pursue others. Here is a representative sample of both.

After reading Lydia Davis’ remarkable collection of short stories in Varieties of Disturbance (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007), wherein one story she outlines a systematic, syntactical, and secretly heartbreaking analysis of 27 fourth graders’ get-well letters to a classmate Steven. I’ve dipped my toes in her The End of the Story from 1995, but so far have found it more depressing than my summer warrants. Especially when read alongside S. D. Chrostowska’s Permission (Dalkey Archive, 2013), written as multiple emails’ soliloquy with image attachments, I’ve found that contemporary fiction writing, for me, needs to be carefully vetted by the public before I set my eyes to it. However, learning from my mistake and in an ameliorative effort, Tan Lin’s Seven Controlled Vocabularies (Wesleyan, 2010) so far relieves me with strange, sparse, deadpan scans of the backs of books, discount cards, and “Wet Paint” signs, and the narrative is obscure, or rather clandestine, or maybe not even there, and refreshing. I’m tired of narratives.

The Rings of SaturnWith that said, despite his overwrought account of the failure of memory in the sleepy wake of post-WWII PTSD, W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn (New Directions, 1999) records scattered memories of scenes as they come to the narrator, with images anchored within two lines of its antecedent. I hope the image and text in his The Emigrants (New Directions, 1997) is just as meticulously and personally designed when I begin it soon.

Christian Bok’s Crystallography (Coach House Books, 1999) inspired me toward Jacques Roubaud’s Mathematics (Dalkey Archive, 2012), but  unfortunately in name only: Bok’s stupifyingly researched, fractal, picture poem on crystals and their study has eaten Roubaud for breakfast. Giving the latter a shot anyway, I thought his memoir on his mathematical academic career would be as cynical toward the academy as Barbara Browning’s detective(?) novel I’m Trying to Reach You (complete with screenshots of YouTube videos of, likely, the author herself in interpretive dance performances inspired by the death of Michael Jackson; Two Dollar Radio, 2012) and maybe even Chris Kraus’ memoir/erotica/art-history-laced-in-latex Video Green (Semiotext(e), 2004), but both Mathematics and Kraus’ novel Summer of Hate (Semiotext(e), 2012) have fallen short so far. I have high hopes anyway while finishing those and Roubaud’s The Loop (Dalkey Archive, 2009).

Finally and always already on my list are Sylvia Plath’s journals, Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren, Jacob Bronowski’s works on science and its critics, and textbooks on our solar system’s planetary landscapes. Like the tradition set by Marianne Moore and the second law of thermodynamics, this female, like her Amazon shopping cart, is a chaos.

Steve Jones

A Man Called DestructionSummer reading this year will veer even further toward pleasure and away from work, and even more toward indulging my interests in popular music, I’m glad to say. In no particular order I’m looking forward to reading Romany and Tom: A Memoir, by Ben Watt, that promises to be a fascinating look at British music and life before the Beatles broke. For somewhat similar voyeuristic reasons, you might say, I’m planning to read Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home (Little, Brown & Co., 2014), for its chronicling of the home life of people at the center of 1980s literary London. Holly George-Warren’s biography of Alex Chilton, A Man Called Destruction (Viking Adult, 2014), is also on my list. I’ve only known the Chilton myths, so I’m looking forward to something a bit more journalistic about hiim. I’ve also got Lisa Robinson’s There Goes Gravity (Riverhead, 2014) on the list, for light reading and a laugh. To round out the music titles I’ve got Greg Kot’s, I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the March up Freedom’s Highway (Scribner, 2014). The Staples family have a singular place in popular music that I hope Kot is able to contextualize. I also very much want to read Alain-Fournier’s The Lost Domain (Oxford University Press, 2014), that’s actually been an intention for a long time. As I look at it now, it’s quite an indulgent list, really, and that makes me quite happy to see.

Benjamin Bratton

My reading list for summer 2014 is made up of largely overlooked titles. In most cases, they are lesser-known works by well-known authors, both fiction and non-fiction. In a couple cases, it’s a chance for me re-visit some favorites that have strongly influenced my recent work. If any of you read any of these over the next few weeks and write something on it, send me a link.

J.G. Ballard Crepuscular Enclave (Picador, 2014): This posthumously-published novel takes place in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, occupied by British forces who live and work behind what is supposed to be the most impenetrable fortress ever devised (obviously modeled on the USA’s Green Zone in Baghdad). After the mysterious disappearance of several soldiers, none of which are officially listed on the base’s manifest, the camp Psychiatrist begins to suspect that the real purpose of the compound is not what it seems. With with two of her patients, awaiting dishonorable discharge for desertion, she makes a furtive pact to investigate what is on the other side of the “barrier.” In time they come realize that “every outside is an inside”and that the architecture of the fortified enclave is the same as a concentration camp.

Hiromi Matsui and Ken Nomo, editors, She Gets Confused (Flying Over the Dateline): Tokyo-Los Angeles Art & Architectural Practices, 1990-99 (Rizzoli, 2013): The catalog for this show featuring art and architectural practices that were based in both Los Angeles and Tokyo during the 1990s and whose work expresses influences from both sides of the Pacific. Of particular interest are extremely inventive “mobile multimedia” projects, experimental manga titles that strongly influenced on the Osaka School of typography, and a series of UCLA student projects for the Japanese space program. I remember with fascination the essays debating the controversy over the design competition for a Yukio Mishima memorial in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo district (officially won by Angry Pineapple Now! after Studio Unit 731b withdrew in protest.) Purchase of the proposed site and construction of a memorial to the controversial right-wing Japanese poet, actor, body-builder, and political activist was provided by a local construction magnate, but outcry from Korean-American and Chinese-American Angelinos resulted in withdrawal of permits by the city. Amazing lenticular book cover design by APPPA.

Dr. Joseph Wang Programming Nanorobotics (O’Reilly, 2014): This introduction to programming essentials from O’Reilly Media books continues their excellent series of software/hardware primers in emerging programming fields. Nanorobotics has become a really interesting platform for design and development, especially in conjunction with standard 3D biotechnology tools. Autodesk’s systems are still the most widely used, including their prosumer iPad apps (like 123Gene and AutoProtein, which even my little boy can use to design DNA and print-to-order “biobricks”). I am more interested in what the new logic and behavior protocols can do (namely OOGL and NovoGenXL) especially in conjunction with Google’s Android Robotics OS. My previous work toying with nanotech skin-based sensing systems is something I would like to develop further for other surfaces with other machine behavior profiles.

That Which is Not What is NotSlavoj Žižek That Which is Not What it is Not (Punctum Books, 2014): I had a chance to spend some time with the intrepid Slovenian Philosopher earlier this summer at the European Graduate School in Switzerland, where we were both teaching. We had a memorable conversation about Jacques Lacan’s notion of “Lamella,” a kind of monstrous brainless undead asexually reproducing indestructible goop. Žižek has used the term in his reading of David Lynch films, as a substance that is horrific and uncanny. I pressed the point that as far as Astrobiology is concerned this kind of matter is pretty ordinary, and that the sorts of things that we take to be “normal” (having a face, inside the symbolic order, sexually reproducing, etc.) are really the bizarre and exceptional forms. He agreed with this (I think), and we discussed H.P. Lovecraft and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, which somehow lead him to anecdotes about Stalin’s body double’s true height and why he liked the new Robocop more than the original. Apparently, he deals with the concept of Lamella at greater length in this short independently published book, and even manages to relate it to the Dave Eggers/Emily Gould collaboration, The Tweed and Tonic Diaries (a text so deeply horrible that neither of us could bear to read more than a few pages —on that we agreed).

Also: Nick Land Urbanatomy Guidebook: Shanghai Expo 2010 (Urbanatomy, 2010); H.D.A. Miralles Historias: Los Edificios son Demasiado Largos (BIS Publishers, 2012); Nigel Worth The Cartoon Guide to Contemporary British Sculpture (Ridinghouse, 2014).

danah boyd

Alice Goffman’s On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (University of Chicago Press, 2014) blew me away. Through deeply embedded ethnographic work, Goffman illustrates how young black men must navigate the abusive nature of policing practices from their earliest years, forcing them to develop sophisticated strategies to achieve some sense of agency in an unfair world. This book is raw and brilliant, providing key insights into aspects of American inequality that aren’t fully understood by more privileged folks.

Picking UpAnother book that delighted me to no end is Robin Nagle’s Picking Up (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2014), where she joins the New York City Department of Sanitation to better understand the often invisible infrastructure of waste collection that keeps our city functional. Did you know, for example, that more sanitation workers die on the job each year than policemen or firemen? And do you know the history of how NYC went from a site of filth to an impressively functional sanitation machine? This book will tell you this and more.

Most histories of the internet start with big tech companies. But if you dig deeper, there’s a more complex story. In the 1930s, the US government brought together leading artists like John Cage and the New Bauhaus folks alongside artistic organizations like MoMA and anthropologists like Margaret Mead to imagine what “democratic media” might look like in response to the “fascist media” of film. As Fred Turner beautifully documents in The Democratic Surround (University of Chicago Press, 2013), the communities that emerged around this helped imagine interactive technologies as we know them.

It’s easy to bash security theater when spending another day trying to navigate the TSA, but the US’s obsession with security isn’t just annoying; it’s downright dangerous. In Against Security (Princeton University Press, 2014), Harvey Molotch offers a series of case studies that shed light on how we used security to implement practices, policies, and infrastructure that fundamentally disenfranchises and harms the very people it’s designed to protect.

My publisher would probably murder me if I didn’t list my own book, published in February, among the list of key summer reading. It’s Complicated (Yale University Press, 2014) is an attempt to synthesize a decade’s worth of work into young people’s engagement with social technologies by responding to various fears and anxieties that enshroud discussions of youth. Kids do care about privacy. Bullying is more complicated than you think. The internet is not the great equalizer. And our online safety discussions are often a distraction to real risks youth face. More importantly, what teens are doing today is trying to reclaim a space of their own because we adults have made it so darn difficult for teens to socialize with their friends.

Peter Lunenfeld

My bifurcated research into media art and media design trifurcated when I started looking at digital humanities as well, and with a long-standing project on the cultural history of Los Angeles, has now morphed, re-mixed, and metastasized into a weird beast that I no longer quite understand or recognize, but one that demands to be fed with bushels of books over summer breaks.

ExcommunicationFor the media philosophy side, I’ll start with Excommunication: Three Inquiries in Media and Mediation by Alexander R. Galloway, Eugene Thacker, and McKenzie Wark (University of Chicago Press, 2013). I want to see to see how these three formidable figures link their contributions together in the book, as collective writing becomes a bigger part of contemporary humanities culture (three authors here, five authors in Digital_Humanities, ten for 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10; MIT Press, 2013).

More than a decade ago I wrote an essay about speed-up called “25/8,” so I’m interested in Jonathan Crary’s take in 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (Verso, 2013). This book has been very present on my grad students’ bibliographies, and I want to catch up with them (an anxious mode of text-reception befitting precisely what I figure Crary will be discussing).

I read Lev Manovich’s Software Takes Command (Bloomsbury Academic, 2013) on-line over time as he posted various versions, but I want to sit down and take it in as a totality now that it’s been published in book form. The chapter on motion graphics is the best thing I’ve ever read on the subject, and the final version is copiously illustrated.

In co-writing Digital_Humanities (MIT Press, 2012), I had to come to grips with just how tenaciously literary scholars want to hold onto the field as “theirs,” even though it seems quite evident to me that DH is far more. That said, I want to look more deeply at two of the best from that side of the aisle, with a close reading of Franco Moretti’s Distant Reading (Verso, 2013) and a microanalysis of Matthew Jockers’ Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History (University of Illinois Press, 2013).

I’ll beat a hasty retreat back to the realms of the visual, spatial, and tactile with Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming (MIT Press, 2013) by the London-based wonder duo Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, and LA architect Greg Lynn, whose Archaeology of the Digital (Ram Publications, 2014) features a series of interviews and project analyses from a show he did at the Canadian Centre for Architecture.

In a similar vein, I plan to dive into the catalogues from some major shows about LA architecture and design from the past year, with Wendy Kaplan’s California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way” from LACMA, the Getty’s Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990 curated by Wim de Wit and Christopher James Alexander, and Never Built Los Angeles, which Sam Lubell and Greg Goldin organized for the A+D Museum.

The buildings in Southern California, even the unbuilt ones, are amazing, but so too is the food that Angelenos eat in and around them. Roy Choi, chef, originator of the food truck phenomenon, and all around bad-ass, has written L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food (Ecco, 2013) which is a must read for anyone trying to figure out the future of the City of Angels. To look at its past, Gustavo Arellano’s sections on SoCal in Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America (Scribner, 2013) are also required reading. For a window onto right now, I’m looking forward to Dana Goodyear’s Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters and the Making of a New American Food Culture (Riverhead, 2013) which promises to contend with L.A.’s particular mix of the high and the low, the spicy and the sublime.

Finally, I’ve decided that I want to read all of Ian Fleming’s original James Bond novels. There are only twelve of them, with two short story collections, written between 1951 and 1964. I probably should be reading them while drinking martinis (shaken but not stirred), but I’m an Angeleno, and it’s already hot outside, so I’ll be opting for cucumber-jalapeno margaritas instead.

Dominic Pettman

Most of my summer reading will consist of canonical texts concerning “Eros & Civilization,” which is a new course I’ll be teaching at the New School for Social Research in the Fall. But when I manage to steal away from such agonistic Grand Narratives, I’ll be hopefully getting a chance to read the following:

Karl Ove Knausgaard My Struggle: Book 2 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014): Yes, obvious I know. But I found Book 1 as inexplicably compulsive as many others, and I’ve heard volume 2 is even more absorbing.

An Ideal for LivingEugene Thacker An Ideal for Living (Gobbet Press, 2014): I read this techno-remix mind-melt in ms. form over ten years ago, and am keen to revisit it again, now that it’s been given a new life by Gobbet Press. A nice appetizer for Thacker’s incredibly transporting book on pessimism, which will hopefully come out in a year or so.

Eduardo Kohn How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human (University of California Press, 2013): People I trust have been raving about this book for the past year, so I better catch up. Kohn seems to be doing something similar, yet different, from what Hugh Raffles did in his splendid book, In Amazonia (Princeton University Press, 2002).

Yuriko Furuhata Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics (Duke University Press, 2013): This book won a SCMS prize a year or so ago, and having read some of Yuri’s subsequent work-in-progress, this has rocketed to the top of the to-read pile. She uses specific sites to do astonishing historical revisions of interest to any scholars of critical media theory. Plus, I envy her virtuoso use of English.

Mark Fisher Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (Zer0 Books, 2014): Another obvious one, but Fisher’s writing is always worth reading, at the level of the sentence, the aesthetic, the politics, and the idea.

Marguerite Yourcenar Two Lives and a Dream (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1988): Part of my ongoing project to read every word Yourcenar ever wrote, and remind the world that this remarkable woman needs to be rediscovered in a big way (a lá, the new marketing machine for Clarice Lispector). Truly humbling to be in the presence of such a brilliant and creative mind.

Zizi Papacharissi

I have been reading Listening Publics by Kate Lacey (Polity, 2013), and am deeply regretting not having read it before turning in my own latest to Oxford University Press, Affective Publics: Sentiment and the New Political. It is a beautifully written and engaging book that reviews what form practices of listening took on in the past, and thus, makes us all reconsider what practices of listening mean for contemporary political cultures. I could not recommend more highly, especially to those interested in how newer media platforms can help revive tired civic habits of the past.

I also recently read and thoroughly enjoyed How Voters Feel by Stephen Coleman (Cambridge University Press, 2014), on what it means to feel like, rather than act like or think like a democratic citizen. Coleman examines how  narratives, dreams, and memories inform performances of voting or non-voting, and what sorts of feelings about democracy and civic engagement these generate for people. The book focuses on what living in a democracy might feel like, rather than require of its citizens, and in so doing, it refocuses attention on the meaning of feelings for political engagement, without divorcing them from the organizing logic of rationality.

The Hybrid Media SystemThe Hybrid Media System: Political and Power (Oxford university Press, 2013) by Andrew Chadwick is another volume I recently finished and highly recommend, especially to those looking for a book to assign in basic courses on mass media (whatever the term may refer to these days), media systems, mass communication and new media, and all those courses that represent the core of our field. Having read this, many textbooks feel dated to me now. This volume describes the organization, logic, and function of contemporary media in immediate and engaging terms. It is a must read for all students of media, and interested parties in general.

Finally, I am trying to muster the energy to read Thomas Piketty’s much discussed Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Belknap Press, 2014). I have gone through the first chapter and had to ask myself whether all those who bought and pushed it to the top of best seller lists actually finished reading it. It is a very smart book, and one that had to be written, I am just not sure yet that the same issues have not been presented, in a slightly different contexts, by other social scientists already. I look forward to reading more, and more on this when I am done doing so. Happy reading!

Mark Amerika

Who has time to read? My world is one of continuous partial attention. Complicating matters is that I can no longer read anything without simultaneously writing something. Let’s call it riff-reading.

The best writing does absolutely nothing for me in the way of story, plot, character, authenticity, voice, setting or conventional meaning-making i.e. the predictable middle-brow or preprogrammed academic literary and theoretical styles that easily meet expectations. Rather, it immediately stimulates my muscle memory in a way my neurons never saw coming. Once the neurons are triggered and I am starting to go out of control, I too find myself writing-while-reading in the margins of my mind, iPhone, notepad, etc. What this means is that the best writing, the writing I come back to, is writing that awakens the writer-in-me, even if that writer is really anybody but me.

Powell's Books rules.Fortunately, I often spend my summers in Portland, living and writing in my loft a mere six blocks away from Powell’s, arguably the best bookstore in America. My nightly visits to Powell’s open me up to books I might never have heard of were I to depend solely on the Internet or, worse, academic culture, to tell me what’s hot and what’s not. Which is why my summer reading is always an eclectic mix of the unexpected. This year is no different. These are the first books I have unearthed from the endless shelves that I immerse myself in:

Anne Waldman Gossamurmur (Penguin, 2013)
Christine Weirtheim mUtter–bAbel (Counterpath Press, 2013)
Melissa Broder When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother (Ampersand Books, 2010)
Kate Durbin E! Entertainment (Wonder, 2014)
Dodie Bellamy The TV Sutras (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2014)
Chelsea Martin The Really Funny Thing About Apathy (sunnyoutside, 2010)

and one old guy too (who, page for page, happens to be the most underappreciated living American fiction writer):

Steve Katz The Compleat Memoirrhoids (Starcherone Books, 2013)

For more on my literary (and other) thoughts, I have two Twitter accounts:
@markamerika
@remixthebook

Ashley Crawford

Blake Butler Three Hundred Million (Harper Perennial, 2014): Alongside Ben Marcus, Blake Butler has rapidly become one of my favorite authors of recent years. His last two forays, There Is No Year (Harper Perennial, 2011) and Sky Saw (Tyrant Books, 2012) were terrifying in scope and ambition. They were essentially abstractions, vivid, nightmarish images sown together with bloody twine to form shimmering, apocalyptic narratives. Three Hundred Million sounds like something of a departure for Butler. For one thing, judging by pre-publication blurbs, it appears as though he has veered into a more straight-forward approach (if that can ever be said of Butler!) – for the first time in his oeuvre he names characters – a psychopath called Gretch Gravey and a burnt-out cop called E.N. Flood. That fact alone suggests a more accessible narrative. But knowing Butler that’s a bit like describing Burroughs’ Cities of the Red Night as a straight forward detective novel. I expect the unexpected.

ConsumedDavid Cronenberg Consumed (Scribner, 2014): What’s not to be intrigued? He is one of the world’s most literary contemporary filmmakers, consuming and then exhuming, as it were, the works of the likes of Burroughs, Ballard and DeLillo for source material. As this is a first novel it will be intriguing to see if Cronenberg’s visual panache can be matched in the written word, but the themes are certainly suitably Cronenbergian: disease, depravity and conspiracy. Evidently the story of two journalists who become involved in the complexities surrounding a French philosopher’s death – it may be Umberto Eco on acid?

William Gibson The Peripheral (Putnam, 2014): It’s rather impossible to know which direction Gibson is going to go in with this. Where Thomas Pynchon’s last outing, Bleeding Edge (Penguin, 2013), sounded like a precursor to some of Gibson’s recent speculations, this one is evidently back to the “far future” – which, with Gibson, probably means next year. The pre-pub blurb is certainly intriguing complete with veteran’s benefits for neural damage suffered from implants during time in an “elite Haptic Recon force,” Beta-testing a new game, where “Little bug-like things turn up,” but “it might also be murder.” Gibson, to date, has never failed to supply a decent narrative drive, although perhaps not as visionary as his first novel, he has an uncanny knack for picking themes that seem strangely relevant to our near-future(s).

Okwui Enwezor, Homi K. Bhabha, and Hilton Als Matthew Barney: River of Fundament (Skira Rizzoli, 2014): Whilst the other books listed here must go down as pleasure, this one is work-related as part of doctorial research where Harold Bloom’s American Religion meets Barney’s art, Ben Marcus’ novels and moments of David Lynch. Yeah, weird. But River of Fundament is an extraordinary film/artwork which I strongly recommend for those who do not have allergies to the extreme. Inspired in part by Norman Mailer’s Egyptian novel Ancient Evenings, his infamous classic that chronicled the passage of a narrator through the stations of death and reincarnation (here reinterpreted as Mailer’s own aspirations to be the Great American Novelist). Barney has outdone the Cremaster Cycle on many levels. If one likes the films of Lynch, Cronenberg, and the more extreme moments of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, River of Fundament is a must-see. Hopefully the main text by Okwui Enwezor will provide an insight into a baffling but brilliant project.

Alex Burns

Michael Findley, Daniel Nielson, and Jason Sharman Global Shell Games: Experiments in Transnational Relations, Crime, and Terrorism (Cambridge University Press, 2014): The authors use an innovative experimental research design to investigate over 3,800 corporate service providers in 181 countries that establish anonymous shell corporations. These untraceable corporations are used for money laundering, covert financing, and offshore tax havens. One of the major findings is that corporate service providers located in major Western countries including the United States are more likely to flout international regulations of the World Bank and the Financial Action Task Force. The authors propose Transnational Experimental Relations as a new sub-discipline of international relations to conduct further research using field experiments.

Gordon Clark, Adam Dixon, and Ashby Monk Sovereign Wealth Funds: Legitimacy, Governance, and Global Power (Princeton University Press, 2013): In 2010 as the global financial crisis unfolded a new type of funds management emerged as a dominant force in international markets and financial media coverage: sovereign wealth funds. This rigorous study examines what sovereign wealth funds are, how they function in transnational economies, and includes case studies from Australia, Norway, Singapore, China, and the Gulf States. A model of how good academic research can dispel media hype cycles.

Thomas Piketty Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Belknap Press, 2014): Piketty’s multi-year research program is one of the sources for multi-country data on income inequality. This book became a bestseller in 2014; crossed into the financial and popular media; and ignited a backlash against Piketty’s data collection and policy suggestions. Rather than Karl Marx, Piketty’s research continues a tradition on social elites pioneered by Gaetano Mosca, Vilfredo Pareto, and most recently, Jeffrey A. Winters. The backlash against Piketty in part reflects an elite strategy of ‘wealth defense’ and civil oligarchical trends in the United States (Winters).

David Weil The Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad for So Many and What Can Be Done To Improve It (Harvard University Press, 2014): Boston University professor Weil is now the Obama Administration’s first Wage and Hour Administrator. This confronting book on labor economics contrasts the asset and private equity style of management with the lives of independent contractors and outsourcing firms. Many of the trends that Weil identifies already apply to universities, and will continue to unfold over the next decade.

The Second Machine AgeErik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies (W.W. Norton & Co., 2014): Brynjolfsson and McAfee continue a debate on technology shaped by Norbert Wiener (The Human Use of Human Beings) and Alvin Toffler (Future Shock). This book catalogues recent growth in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and related fields, and how these innovations might change workplaces in the next two decades. Brynjolfsson and McAfee contend that recent innovations will lead to societal transformations (Toffler), yet they may also create a new economic underclass (Wiener; Piketty; and Weil). A primer to critically interrogate the preferred futures of Bangalore and Silicon Valley.

Riccardo Rebonato and Alexander Denev Portfolio Management Under Stress: A Bayesian-Net Approach to Coherent Asset Allocation (Cambridge University Press, 2014): Modern Portfolio Theory faced critique after the 2007-09 global financial crisis. Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Nouriel Roubini emerged as superstar critics. This book develops a post-MPT approach to asset allocation and portfolio management that uses Bayesian nets: probabilistic models of belief networks. Rebonato and Denev’s insights and formal models articulate ways to deal with extreme events and risk management that has resonances with the therapeutic literature on post-traumatic growth and resilience.

Henrique Andrade, Bugra Gedik, and Deepak Turaga Fundamentals of Stream Processing: Application, Design, Systems and Analytics (Cambridge University Press, 2014): A decade ago business management literature hypothesized the emergence of real-time companies. SAP’s enterprise resource planning platform was one way. Tibco and Streambase’s complex event processing engines are another way. This book provides a conceptual and methodological overview of stream processing that deals with high-volume, real-time data streams – with sections on system architecture, development, analytics, and case studies. Stream processing is an example of Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s transformative technologies, and that benefit Piketty’s economic elites. For one application in financial services, see Yacine Ait-Sahalia and Jean Jacod’s High-Frequency Econometrics (Princeton University Press, 2014).

Jacob Shapiro The Terrorist’s Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations (Princeton University Press, 2013): During the Bush Administration’s so-called Global War on Terror the study of terrorist organizations was a ‘hot topic’ in security studies. This book is one of the best post-GWoT studies to combine agency theory with a careful study of internal documents from terrorist organizations. Shapiro identifies a dilemma: leadership need for control versus the need to be clandestine. His findings can also be read as a specialized form of Clayton M. Christensen’s influential Disruptive Innovation Theory, as applied to terrorist organizations.

Don Webb Through Dark Angles (Hippocampus Press, 2014): H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) influenced contemporary horror and weird fiction, films, and subcultures. This book collects the Lovecraftian-influenced short stories of Austin, Texas writer Don Webb. The short stories hint at Webb’s on-going practice-based research into the anthropology, linguistics, and sociology of operative magic (the Egyptian heka) as a liminal methodology to achieve, embody, and to cultivate Desire.

James H. Austin Meditating Selflessly: Practical Neural Zen (MIT Press, 2011): Over the past decade Austin has published a series of books on Zen and contemporary neuroscience. This book summarizes Austin’s research program, and offers guidance for mindfulness meditation practice. Rather than beliefs or doctrines Austin advises: “what you may glimpse are some of your brain’s innate resources” (p. xxiii). Austin’s latest book Zen-Brain Horizons: Towards a Living Zen (MIT Press, 2014) continues his personal research journey.

Roy Christopher

Records Ruin the LandscapeDavid Grubbs Records Ruin the Landscape: John Cage, the Sixties, and Sound Recording (Duke University Press, 2014): The last time I saw the name David Grubbs, it was attached to a record by Grubbs’ band with Jim O’Rourke called Gastr Del Sol. I got this book for Lily because she loves John Cage more than she loves me. Given the Grubbs connection though, I’ll probably read it before she does.

Lance Strate Amazing Ourselves to Death: Neil Postman’s Brave New World Revisited (Peter Lang, 2014): It’s high time that Neil Postman’s ideas were revisited, and, having studied under Postman himself, Lance Strate is the ideal scholar to do it. Media ecology as a perspective is more important now than ever. This is the source and the voice of its views in the 21st century. I’m looking forward to the upgrade.

Eugene Thacker An Ideal for Living (Gobbet Press, 2014) and In the Dust of This Planet [Horror of Philosophy, vol 1] (Zer0 Books, 2011): Eugene Thacker has been quietly building an impressively wide and weird body of work. An Ideal for Living is a deserved re-issue of the anti-novel he was working on during our 2006 interview. In the Dust of This Planet is Book One of his re-imagining of horror, philosophy, and their intersection. Both are worth a look. Or three.

Lisa Gitelman Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents (Duke University Press, 2014) and N. Katherine Hayles and Jessica Pressman Comparative Textual Media: Transforming the Humanities in the Postprint Era (University of Minnesota Press, 2013): James Macanufo once said that if paper didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it. In one way or another these two books are about the widespread implications of that idea.

Jonathan Crary 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (Verso, 2013): This has been on my list since Jussi Parikka mentioned it last year. Now that it’s out in paperback, I suspect it will get the wider attention it deserves.

Mark Fisher Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (Zer0 Books, 2014): Just the introduction, “The Slow Cancellation of the Future,” is worth the price of this book. Fisher glides effortlessly across the surfaces of Joy Division, Burial, Kanye West, Christopher Nolan’s Inception, and many others, sometimes trying to see past his own reflection, others just describing how he looks. It’s enough for me to add him to the short list of writers I aspire to write like, along with Rebecca Solnit, David Toop, and Terry Eagleton (I’m not kidding myself, but one should dream large).

I tend to read more music biographies during the summer. I’ve already knocked out Lexicon Devil, Keven Dettman’s 33 1/3 book on Gang of Four’s Entertainment! and both of D. X. Ferris’s Slayer books. I’ve collected a pile of books on New York’s late-1970s no wave movement, including David Nobakht’s Suicide: No Compromise (SAF Publishing, 2004). In addition, I’m hoping to finally get to John F. Szwed’s Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (Da Capo, 1998).

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.

Is Anyone There? On her and Transcendence

Cinema is our most viable and enduring form of design fiction. More than any other medium, it lets us peer into possible futures projected from the raw materials of the recent past, simulate scenes based on new visions via science and technology, gauge our reactions, and adjust our plans accordingly. These visions are equipment for living in a future heretofore unseen. As video artist Bill Viola (1995) puts it,

The implied goal of many of our efforts, including technological development, is the eradication of signal-to-noise ratio, which in the end is the ultimate transparent state where there is no perceived difference between the simulation and the reality, between ourselves and the other. We think of two lovers locked in a single ecstatic embrace. We think of futuristic descriptions of direct stimulation to the brain to evoke experiences and memories (p. 224).

Miles explains love to Edgar the computer in Electric Dreams (1984)
— Miles explains love to Edgar the computer in Electric Dreams (1984)

Welcome to the world of Pinecone Computers. This model will learn with you, so type your name and press Enter key to begin.
— Miles Harding reading from a computer manual in Electric Dreams (1984)

Since the big-screen tales of the 1980s’ PC-era, the idea of machines merging with humans has been a tenacious trope in popular culture. In Tron (1982) Kevin Flynn was sucked through a laser into the digital realm. Wired to the testosterone, the hormone-driven juvenile geniuses of Weird Science (1985) set to work making the woman of their dreams. WarGames (1983) famously pit suburban whiz-kids against a machine hell bent on launching global thermonuclear war. In Electric Dreams (1984), which is admittedly as much montage as it is movie, Miles Harding (played by Lenny von Dohlen, who would go on to play the agoraphobic recluse Harold Smith in Twin Peaks) attempts to navigate a bizarre love triangle between him, his comely neighbor, and his new computer.

From the jealous machine to falling in love with the machine, the theme remains pervasive 30 years on. As Ray Kurzweil writes of Spike Jonze’s her,

Jonze introduces another idea that I have written about (and that is the central theme of Barry Ptolemy’s movie about my ideas, Transcendent Man), namely, AIs creating an avatar of a deceased person based on their writings, other artifacts and people’s memories of that person. In her, the AIs get together and recreate 1960s philosopher Alan Watts (whom I remember from my teenage years).

Theodore Twombly at work in her (2013).
— Theodore Twombly at work in her (2013).

I’d say “her” is a movie about (the education of) an interesting woman who falls in love with a man who, though sweet, is mired in biology. — , Tweeted on February 16, 2014

in her, Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix) writes letters for a living. Letters between fathers and daughters, long-distance lovers, husbands, wives. He condenses stories from the vapor of their nuances. In doing so, he is especially susceptible to the power of narrative himself since his job involves the constant creation of believable, vicarious stories. His ability to immerse himself in the stories of others makes it that much easier for him to get lost in his operating system (“Samantha,” voiced by Scarlett Johansson) as she constructs narratives to create her personality, and thereby, their relationship.

In many ways, her can be read as a response to Lost in Translation (2003), directed by Jonze’s wife at the time, Sophia Coppola, who, like Jonze did for her, won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. That movie is in part about the dissolution of Jonze and Coppola’s relationship. Where Giovanni Ribisi plays a goofy, self-involved Jonze (“John”) in Lost in Translation, Rooney Mara plays an ununderstanding, judgemental Coppola (“Catherine”) in her: mere caricatures of themselves played out in bit parts. Where others have no problem with it, ex-wife Catherine has no truck with Theodore’s new OS love. He nonetheless remains incredulously committed.

Cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter calls our imbuing machines with more intelligence than they have—even when we know better—“The ELIZA Effect,” after Joseph Weizenbaum’s text-based psychoanalytic computer program, ELIZA. Hofstadter writes, “The most superficial of syntactic tricks convinced some people who interacted with ELIZA that the program actually understood everything that they were saying, sympathized with them, even empathized with them” (p. 158). ELIZA was written at MIT by Weizenbaum in the mid-1960s, but its effects linger on. “Like a tenacious virus that constantly mutates,” Hofstadter continues, “the Eliza effect seems to crop up over and over again in AI in ever-fresh disguises, and in subtler and subtler forms” (p. 158). To wit, in Chapter One of Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together (2011; specifically pp. 24-25), she extends the idea to our amenability to new technologies, including artificial intelligence, embodied or otherwise: “And true to the ELIZA effect, this is not so much because the robots are ready but because we are” (p. 25).

More germane to her is a program called KARI, which stands for “Knowledge Acquiring and Response Intelligence.” According to Dominic Pettman‘s first and only conversation with Kari (see Pettman’s Look at the Bunny, 2013), there’s a long way to go before any of us are falling in love with our computers.

Kevin Flynn getting zapped into the computer in Tron (1982).
— Kevin Flynn getting zapped into the computer in Tron (1982).

Others imagine a much more deliberate merging, postulating an uploading of human consciousness into the machines themselves, known in robotic and artificial intelligence circles as “The Moravec Transfer.” Its namesake, roboticist Hans Moravec, describes a human brain being uploaded, neuron by neuron, until it exists unperturbed inside a machine. But Moravec wasn’t the first to imagine such a transition (for another early example, see Stine, 1979). NASA’s own Robert Jastrow wrote in 1984 that uploading our minds into machines is the be-all of evolution and would make us immortal. He wrote,

At last the human brain, ensconced in a computer, has been liberated from the weakness of the mortal flesh… The machine is its body; it is the machine’s mind… It seems to me that this must be the mature form of intelligent life in the Universe. Housed in indestructible lattices of silicon, and no longer constrained in the span of its years by the life and death cycle of a biological organism, such a kind of life could live forever (p. 166-167).

Dr. Will Caster merges with the machine in Trancendence (2014).
— Dr. Will Caster merges with the machine in Transcendence (2014).

In Transcendence (2014) Dr. Will Caster (played by Johnny Depp) and his wife (“Evelyn,” played by Rebecca Hall, who almost seems to be filling in for an unavailable Johansson) do just that. Caster is terminally ill and on the verge of offloading his mortal shell. Once uploaded into a quantum computer connected to the internet, Caster becomes something less than himself and something more simultaneously. It’s the chronic consciousness question: What is it about you that makes you you? Is it still there once all of your bits are transferred into a new vessel? The Casters’ love was strong enough for them to try and find out.

If Kubrick and Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001) can be read as an allegory for gays being accepted by their parents (see Kraus, 2004, p. 182), what sociological anxieties can we superimpose over her and Transcendence? I am admittedly a lapsed student of AI, having dropped out of the University of Georgia’s Artificial Intelligence master’s program several years ago. My interest in AI lies in the weird ways that consciousness and creation butt heads in the midst of such advanced technologies. Mix a love story in there and you’ve got questions and quests for a lifetime. As Jonze himself puts it, “… a lot of the feelings you have about relationships or about technology are often contradictory” (quoted in Michael, 2013). Love and technology willing, when one of us has to be leaving, we won’t let that come between us, okay?

References:

Hofstadter, Douglas. (1995). Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought. New York: Basic Books.

Jastrow, Robert. (1984). The Enchanted Loom: Mind in the Universe. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Kraus, Chris. (2004). Video Green: Los Angeles Art and the Triumph of Nothingness. New York: Semiotext(e).

Michael, Chris. (2013, September 9). Spike Jonze on Letting Her Rip and Being John Malkovich. The Guardian.

Pettman, Dominic. (2013). Look at the Bunny: Totem, Taboo, Technology. Ropley Hants, UK: Zer0 Books.

Stine, G. Harry. (1979, July). The Bionic Brain. Omni Magazine, vol. 1, #10, pp. 84-86, 121-122.

Turkle, Sherry. (2011). Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic Books

Viola, Bill. (1995). Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House: Writings 1973-1994. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Weizenbaum, Joseph. (1976). Computer Power and Human Reason. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman.

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.