Archive for the 'bookmaggot' Category

saving time, by jenny odell

Cynicism and nihilism will make you dry up, like soil compacted by neglect and abuse. But soil holds the memory of life, and with some water and a garden fork, you might be able to bring it back. It helps to remember that you’re not alone. Look around. Is it really true that everyone sees time as money?

how to suppress women’s writing, by joanna russ

To act in a way that is both sexist and racist, to maintain one’s class privilege, it is only necessary to act in the customary, ordinary, usual, even polite manner.

we who are about to, by joanna russ

The old monks: “Sit in thy cell and thy cell will teach thee all things.” Helps if you’ve got a cell in the middle of downtown San Francisco.

with love from cold world, by alicia thompson

…a quote from John Waters—“True success is figuring out your life and career so you never have to be around jerks.”

some books i loved in 2023 that might also interest you

Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire

Okay, maybe “love” isn’t exactly the right word for this one. Caroline Elkins is a fucking badass whose archival research helped secure reparations for 5,228 Kenyan Kikiyu people who survived British gulags during the brutal suppression of the Mau Mau movement. It’s quite the story:

When Elkins’s book came out, her findings – partly based on the testimony of Kikuyu survivors – were widely dismissed as, at best, exaggerations by a generation of historians wedded to stubborn ideas of Britain’s “enlightened” and “benign empire”. Her history was dramatically vindicated, however, when an unknown cache of 240,000 top secret colonial files, removed from Nairobi at the time of Kenyan independence in 1963, were disclosed on the eve of the 2011 trial. The files had been stored in a high security foreign office depository at Hanslope Park, near Northampton. At the time of that high court victory, Elkins noted that she had for years put on hold a wider inquiry into the methods of British colonial governance in the years after the second world war, in order to substantiate the survivors’ case, research that would now be illuminated by the fact that the secret document store also held “lost” records from 37 other former colonies. She was both vindicated and outraged by the discovery: “After all these years of being roasted over the coals, they’ve been sitting on the evidence? Are you frickin’ kidding me? This almost destroyed my career.”

Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire by Caroline Elkins review – the brutal truth about Britain’s past

It’s taken me most of a year to get through the audiobook version, not only because it’s 31 hours long but because it’s heavy, heavy work. It draws connections between stories I know well, like British lies and cruelty during the Troubles in Ireland; stories I know less well but that have become hideously topical, like British cynicism and racism during Mandatory Palestine; and stories that to my shame I barely know at all, like British duplicity and violence in the Malayan Emergency. It describes, in painful detail, the contents of those “lost” records, including suppressed evidence of multiple extrajudicial murders by British officers.

And it’s my legacy. My grandfather is somewhere in these pages, in Mandatory Papua New Guinea after the war, with his wife and their children, my aunt and uncle and father. Not, I hope, committing the most egregious crimes, but certainly acting as a tool of Empire.

Despite all this, this book deserves its place as the most important thing I read in 2023. It may join Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 and The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity on the short list of books I think about almost every day.


On a much cheerier note, the amazing Helen MacDonald of H is for Hawk spent the early part of the pandemic (how is this a cheerier note, Rachel) collaborating with Sin Blache on this irresistable book. As I said to my secret coven, imagine late Douglas Adams and mid-career William Gibson writing a scaldingly hot queer love story together. Get it in your eyes posthaste.

Ghosts of the Tsunami and San Francisco’s Forgotten Cemeteries: A Buried History

Feels like cheating to include Beth Winegarner’s exquisitely researched investigation into the graveyards on which the City was built, given that I read it in draft and am thanked in the acknowledgments, but it would be equally dishonest to leave this one out. It’s even better than her Sacred Sonoma, and was written for the same reason: to try to understand and navigate the spiritual geography of place, its holy places and corpse roads. Parry’s book is an effort to do the same for the devastated landscape of the 2011 Japan earthquake.

My archaeology professor Alexander Cambitoglou impressed on me that we measure civilizations by how they dispose of their dead. Hit middle age and you realize every house is haunted; you realize that you yourself are a haunted house. We channel the voices of our dead for our children, because we knew and loved them when they were alive. Just as safety regulations are written in blood, institutional memory is a set of ghost stories, and that’s if you are very, very lucky.

(I forgot my best story about Beth’s book: she wound up her launch events with a Halloween reading at the Neptune Society’s beautiful Columbarium in the Richmond. I’d never been and it was atmospheric enough even before the quite strong tremor that rattled the stained glass windows and interrupted Beth making a very cogent and spooky point. Memento mori much?)

System Collapse

The latest Murderbot would be a shoo-in for the list even if it had not come out on the birthday shared by my younger kid and the Guide Dog puppy I’m currently raising. The younger kid was equally thrilled, having fallen for this series as hard as I did, with the delightful result that we can use deep cuts to communicate, Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra-style, about our neurodivergence and misanthropy. Beloved author Martha Wells is responding well to cancer treatment; long may it be so.

Honorable mentions (because otherwise this post is getting too long)

The Animators and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow – charming and engaging litfic about love and creativity

The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy – I texted my friend Danny, who had recommended it, to say Why don’t I heed your recommendations all the time? To which he responded You should! Another that reminds me of The Dawn of Everything

When We Cease to Understand the World – this year’s Vita Nostra, an entirely unexpected and mind-bending delight

a city on mars, by kelly weinersmith and zach weinersmith

So. Space settlements. Have we really thought this through?

the heat will kill you first, by jeff goodell

If you’d had the right kind of microphone, scientists say, you could have heard the trees screaming.

hither page, by cat sebastian

Theirs was a world of fear and chaos, with tiny islands of goodness and hope.

how high we go in the dark, by sequoia nagamatsu

“It is imperative you exude merriment,” he stressed.

the visitors, by jane harrison and wesley enoch

…there is no exclusively ‘white’ history of Australia—when we—First Nations people—have always been here. There is no ‘Black’ history of Australia in the last 240-plus years, either. We are each other’s shadows. To make sense of our shared history, we need to go back to the very beginning.

burn it down, by maureen ryan

What the industry wants to do is revert to the mean—always.

mobility, by lydia kiesling

Her family had been happy here, at least in her memory.

true biz, by sara novic

More than a few times she’d even prayed, selfishly, for The End to hold off until after she was dead and buried, so that she might be spared the pain of bearing witness to it.

the unthinkable, by amanda ripley

Emotions and feelings were not impediments to reason; they were integral. “Reason may not be as pure as most of us think it is or wish it were,” he wrote.

really good, actually, by monica heisey

She’s a nightmare, top to bottom, but being mad at her is technically biphobia, so.

testo junkie, by paul b. preciado

A woman who has reached forty-five in the heterocapitalist economy can arrive at the lesbian economy with a status close to adolescence. Bingo.

radical companies, by matt perez

Our deepest problems are the inescapable side-effects of the FIAT system we live in, a system based on domination: our collapsing climate, the gaping wealth gap, discrimation against people of color, the exploitation of women. We need a generative way of relating to one another…

who killed my father, by edouard louis

For the ruling class, in general, politics is a question of aesthetics: a way of seeing themselves, of seeing the world, of constructing a personality. For us it was life or death.

when we cease to understand the world, by benjamin labatut

…every individual manifestation is only a reflection of Brahman, the absolute reality that underlies the phenomena of the world.

we all want impossible things, by catherine newman

My whole life with the girls is telescoped into this moment—running away, running back. Fly, be free! I want to say. I want to say, Stay with me forever! Come to think of it, these are the two things I want to say to everyone I love most.