Hélène Barthélemy, New York, New York
Willing Slaves of Capital, by Frédéric Lordon
It was initially a bit tedious to plow through the heavily theoretical language of Lordon’s Willing Slaves of Capital, but I did it because I had no choice: I was working at the publishing house that had published it. Yet, now six months later, I find myself constantly going back to the book’s ideas, notably the question of why we work. Not only do we work to gain sustenance, we eventually become so enlisted and dedicated to our employer that we find pleasure in work. Company culture, faces, marketing, team-building all contribute to enlist us to the cause of our work (now our cause!), concealing the negative reason why we do it (to be able to live) with more pleasurable ends. It convinces us that it is, for instance, our vocation.
A lot has been written about the problem of conceiving of someone’s work as pleasurable (which often serves as a justification for decreasing wages or problematic gender roles). Lordon just says that the way your desires are formed has to be taken into account when imagining an alternative society. And, as long as you remain aware of the obligation, perhaps happy enslavement doesn’t sound too bad. There are not that many other viable options… till we abolish wage-labor, of course! For the lucky few, it is also intellectually fulfilling: to prove the point, this is about a book that I read… at work!
Summer Concepcion, Los Angeles, California
Just Kids, by Patti Smith
Given that being an intern has provided me the opportunity to work and live in New York City for the first time, it was only appropriate that a dear friend of mine from Chicago gave me Patti Smith’s National Book Award–winning memoir as a gift. Smith, the fortieth anniversary of whose debut album Horses will be celebrated next year, effortlessly weaves stories of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe together with life in NYC during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The couple’s dedication to art was their own version of the “American dream”—a dream many New Yorkers can relate to and come to the city for. Despite the struggles the couple faced between their relationship and keeping their artistic ambitions alive, Smith’s innately poetic voice makes Just Kids an homage to the many worlds that come together when one lives in NYC. It is no wonder why Smith has remained an icon decades later—her art continues to resonate to this day.
Erin Corbett, Chicago, Illinois
On Female Body Experience: Throwing Like a Girl and Other Essays, by Iris Marion Young
I picked up this book after reading Young’s “The Logic of Masculinist Protection: Reflections on the Current Security State” for a spring course, wanting to read more on feminist philosophy. I started my reading with the essay “Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment Motility and Spatiality,” in which Young takes us beyond the biological differences between men and women, discussing the female body’s comportment and movement in relation to the surrounding space. This collection of essays uses a feminist framework to locate the subjectivity of the feminine body in its social surroundings.
Victoria Ford, Greenville, South Carolina
Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination, by Salamishah Tillet
This book, both academic and personal, critical and generous, traces the ways in which contemporary artists from Bill T. Jones to Kara Walker to Carrie Mae Weems resurrect and reimagine American slavery. Each artist, while revisiting historical and literary characters, as well as the ghost homes of slave forts, argues not for legal recognition in a post–civil rights society but for a fully realized and empathetic civic membership. By unpacking these pieces of photography, dance and visual art, Professor Tillet teaches readers to reconcile with our deeply broken vision of American democracy—one that exists in the belly and bedlam of our current Americana refusal to remember the original sin upon which this nation was born.
Douglas Grant, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, by Rick Perlstein
I admit a certain bias in mentioning Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge: the Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, due out in August, because I am doing research for his third work on the history of American conservatism. It’s the best read on the seventies’ zeitgeist (it follows his other engrossing tome, Nixonland, which is the best read on the sixties and its intertwining chaoses). It’s not exactly the kind of book that lets you sprawl out on a beach towel with your toes digging in the sand, but it’s the kind of book that doesn’t let you go.
Hannah Harris Green, Madison, Wisconsin
Every Day is for the Thief, by Teju Cole
Every Day is for the Thief is Teju Cole’s fictional adaption of a blog he wrote while visiting Lagos, Nigeria, where he grew up, for the first time in thirteen years. Cole told Interview that this blog is “still the most intense writing I’ve ever done. For 30 days it was like I almost didn’t exist as a person.”
Alana de Hinojosa, Davis, California
At the Bottom of the River, by Jamaica Kincaid
At the Bottom of the River is a collection of ten short stories told through the point of view of a girl-woman as she plunges into the memories of her childhood in the Caribbean. Short and sweet, spooky and enchanting, these stories speak to the mysteries of her Caribbean home—the monkeys in the trees, the river too large to cross, the father she loves, the mother she will always trust, the way blackness comes to her in the night, on her skin and in her blood and the way a growing girl-woman must learn to see and navigate her postcolonial Caribbean world. Quick to read, though complex and deep, At the Bottom of the River is the perfect read for your lunch break or as you commute to work on the subway.
Crystal Kayiza, Jenks, Oklahoma
Regarding the Pain of Others, by Susan Sontag
For over half of my twenty-one years of life, this nation has been at war. Living in a society so entrenched in its militarism and obsession with violence, it is easy to forget that war is physical and not just images between headlines. “How in your opinion do we prevent war?” are the jarring lines on the first page of Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others. Drawing these words from Virgina Woolf’s Three Guineas, Sontag critiques our “diet of horrors.” Her insight delves deep into compassion and critiques our consumption of atrocities. While visual culture depicts what humankind is capable of, it simultaneously exposes our distance from suffering—because, as Sontag eloquently outlines, no matter how far away, war will be waged and suffering will soon follow.
Agnes Radomski, Los Angeles, California
The Silenced Majority: Stories of Uprisings, Occupations, Resistance, and Hope, by Amy Goodman and Dennis Moynihan
This collection of short articles touches on everything from war and capital punishment to climate change and dirty energy—all topics reported in depth on the daily news hour Democracy Now! It provides a critical commentary on the most important social justice issues shaping our society and is a must-read for any independent news junkie!