My leisure reading of books slowed down a bit in April, as I continued getting sucked into lots more longform than I had intended and, on a happier note, did a lot more reading for my dissertation (good news!!!). Here’s some of what I read last month for pleasure.
I spent much of my free reading time reading nonfiction related to the Objectivist poets (lots of biographies and letters this month), but outside of that reading, I still did manage to get to a few books that I had been wanting to read for a few months.
- I finally read Matthew Desmond’s Evicted. It was outstanding, one of those books which explains, humanizes, and complicates in equal measure. Debt and housing insecurity–what thorny problems. That we permit them to have such a powerful impact on so many of our neighbors is unconscionable.
- Michael Glennon’s National Security and Double Government was magnificent–a very quick read, with hundreds of footnotes running to about the same length as the book itself. Curious about why foreign policy and national security measures under Bush/Obama/Trump seems so curiously continuous? Skeptical of the surveillance state? Interested to learn more about the larger policy/bureaucratic context for people like Edward Snowden, James Clapper, Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald? This is the book for you. The book was a bit difficult for me to obtain (had to do an interlibrary loan), so in case you’re interested but are having a hard time tracking a copy down, know that the book is just an extended version of this article written for the Harvard National Security Journal.
- Keaanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. This book came highly recommended by several people I trust, and it was a lucid, well-constructed account of the legacy of racism and array of present-day structural forces wreaking violence on black Americans. I wanted to like it much more than I actually did, I’m embarrassed to admit.
- Burton Malkiel and Charles Ellis’ The Elements of Investing. I’ve been helping some family and friends do some basic financial planning and retirement savings, and am always on the lookout for good, simple volumes on basic principles of financial health. Found this at St. Vinny’s and picked it up, since I’d previously read work by each of the authors. It was a tiny little book and didn’t take more than an hour and a half for me to read, but it covered most of the basics: 1) spend less than you earn and save the excess, starting today; 2) asset allocation matters most; 3) fees and costs make an enormous difference, so look for passive, low-cost investment vehicles; 4) use broad indexing to achieve diversification and keep your costs low (consider Vanguard); 5) rebalance annually so that you’re staying on target with your goals; 6) keep it as simple as possible: buy and hold; set it and forget it.
Apart from the poetry I’ve been reading for my dissertation research (WC Williams and Zukofsky this month, mostly), I didn’t read as much poetry for pleasure, as I would have liked, but I did read some. Here’s what I read:
- August Kleinzahler’s Hotel Oneira. I appreciate Kleinzahler as a human being, as a critic, and as a poet. This book was dizzying. Here’s a review of the book in The Guardian.
- My friend Ron Czerwien published his first chapbook, a collection of political poems, A Ragged Tear Down the Middle of Our Flag with Locofo Chaps. Favorite lines: “There is no amulet to protect you / from dissatisfaction, no persuading the posturing toad / that it is a toad and not a tremendous winner, / corpulent” You can buy a copy for $5 here. I also read two other small chapbooks in the Locofo series: Gabe Gudding’s Bed From Government and Andrea Sloan Pink’s Prison and Other Ideas.
- I went to Denver for work and visited Tim Roberts and Julie Carr’s bookstore/performance space Counterpath while I was there. Inspired by the visit, I’ve been digging into several of the books they’ve published: so far, I’ve read Jesse Weise’s edited collection Locked Out: Voices from America’s Second Prison (narratives about the difficulty of reconstructing one’s life after incarceration); CA Conrad’s Circle M; Ron Silliman’s Against Conceptual Poetry (the transcript of a conversation between Julian Assange, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and other media titans. See Vanessa Place’s review for more on the book); and Robert Fitterman’s Holocaust Museum (a collection and presentation of descriptive labels and metadata from objects collected in the Washington D.C. Holocaust Museum).
Another month dabbling more than I wanted in longform journalism (my version of a guilty pleasure, I guess?). Here’s the best of what I read in April:
- Brendan Borrell’s article in The Guardian on ethical controversies in the English mole-catching community. Probably my favorite thing I read all month.
- An adapted excerpt in The Guardian from Michael Finkel’s new book, The Stranger in the Woods, about the recently captured longtime Maine hermit-thief Christopher Knight.
- Janet Somers’ excellent article in The Atlantic about the promise, disappointment, and aftermath of the failed Google Books project and its many legal obstacles.
- Dale Maharidge and Jessica Bruder’s account, in Harper’s, of their receipt and storage of the material leaked to Laura Poitras by Edward Snowden.
- Ben Mauk’s essay “The Useful Village,” published in VQR, about Sumte, a small German town of ~100 people recently designated as a sanctuary for roughly 800 refugees.
- Matea Gold’s investigative piece in the Washington Post exploring the financial influence of secretive conservative mega-donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer (father and daughter), and their connections to Stephen Bannon.
- Stacy Cowley’s concise, damning explanation in the NYT’s Deal Book of the several charges made in lawsuits filed against Navient, the nation’s largest servicer of student loans.
- David Halperin’s long Huff Post exploration of the recent deal Purdue University has struck, under Mitch Daniels’ leadership, to buy the for-profit educational institution Kaplan University.
- Bryan Alexander’s helpful summary of several distressing recent trends in student debt in the United States.
Featured image: Dead moles struck along a fence in Yorkshire, England. Photograph by desirwin