In an effort to keep track of my readings habits, remember books I would otherwise forget, and to just generally get my life together for crissakes, I’m going to try keeping track of all the books I’ve “read.” For me, having “read” a book means a few different things. In grad school, you learn quickly that you simply can’t read every page of every book you need to know, especially scholarly material. So I’m listing a variety of books I read in a variety of ways. Usually if it’s a work of fiction or poetry — like Steal the Stars, Neon in Daylight, Mira Corpora, and Imperium in Imperio — it means I read the whole thing. Other books, I’m reading for specific purposes or specific chapters, or it’s about something I’m sort of vaguely interested in, like The Great Transformation, In My Father’s House and The Age of Anger. I’m not listing stuff I read on the internet, because that would be insane.
I used to feel intense guilt about not finishing books, to the point that I would power through things even when I was bored with them, realized I had no interest in them, or when I had already gotten out of them everything I was going to get out of them. Books were like traps in that way. I’d walk into them expecting to get a nice juicy carrot and then, days later, find myself still caged in by my own misplaced sense of duty. Add grad school, and reading becomes, among other things, a perpetually embarrassing and anxiety-ridden exercise in endurance, a stroll in the park that turns into a marathon you forgot to train for and that some sadistic coach inside you forces you to keep running.
This is why, when you ask a grad student or professor or someone who works in publishing if they’re reading anything interesting, they stare at you with fear in their eyes and, if it’s me, start visibly sweating. You’ve just reminded them that they’re in a cage, and the cocktail party they thought they were attending was just a distraction from their own self-imposed incarceration. My parents once got me a Barnes & Noble gift card for my birthday, and I stood in the literature section in Union Square trying to make a selection having an honest-to-God panic attack. I was, at the time, drafting my dissertation prospectus, and every choice seemed like the wrong choice because it left out every other choice. And do I do the “right thing” by buying a book I need to read for my dissertation, or do I take the gift in the spirit in which it was given and choose something “fun.”
Contra all of that “when you do what you love, you never work a day in your life” crap, the truth is that when you do what you love, you turn the thing that gives you pleasure into work. Work is sometimes very rewarding, but it always comes along with bullshit: drudgery and tedium and failure and obligation. That’s how you know you have a job instead of a hobby, the bullshit.
Anyway, it would be nice to not have all of that baggage, so over the course of the last few years I’ve tried to just release myself from it. There are so many other wonderful things to be anxious about! The world in 2018 offers a veritable buffet of depravity and disappointment! Making more for myself seems likes gilding the lily. So with that:
Helen DeWitt, Some Trick
Hermione Hoby, Neon in Daylight
Nat Cassidy, Steal the Stars
Pankaj Mishra, The Age of Anger: A History of the Present
Karl Polyani, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time
Kwame Anthony Appiah, In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture
Andrea Bachner, The Mark of Theory: Inscriptive Theories, Poststructuralist Prehistories
Jeff Jackson, Mira Corpora
Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory
Samin Nosrat, Salt Fat Acid Heat
Sutton E. Griggs, Imperium in Imperio