Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

01 Dec 2021, 16:43 p.m.

Another Swath Of Recent Reading


Some more books I've read fairly recently.

Some time ago, while looking for Diane Duane tie-in novels to read, I found out that she wrote seven technothriller novels for young adults within the Tom Clancy's Net Force series. I've now read Death Match (I think reissued as Own Goal) and Safe House. They're a lot of fun! In particular, Death Match has some very accurate descriptions of what it's like to learn a second programming language, audit code, and deal with software supply chain concerns.

Once I heard that Charlie Jane Anders was working on the adaptation of Y: The Last Man, I thought "I'd like to see that" which reminded me that I might enjoy rereading the graphic novel. I did -- I think this was the first time I'd read the whole series in less than a day, so I followed some background details, visual motifs, and so on more than I had before. I cried once more in the last book -- oh how modern-day social media would have erupted at [spoiler]! Even though the TV adaptation has now been cancelled, I may still go watch the one season to see how they handled trans characters.

Also recently I read Alison Bechdel's newest graphic memoir, The Secret to Superhuman Strength, which was fun and funny and perhaps more personally relatable (for me) than either of her previous memoirs; I am attempting to get back in touch with the part of me that loves physical movement and strength and agility, and sometimes I have been, and Bechdel's journey isn't anything like mine but it still resonated.

My Lunches With Orson is a ride. Found via this post. Orson Welles, near the end of his life, complains, tells stories, self-sabotages, and offers a grudge-based history of a half-century of cinema. I will particularly remember the conversation in which he completely shoved away a promising opportunity -- that he needed -- because he didn't like the flicker of an expression on an HBO executive's face. I think it's kind of fascinating that Welles kept wanting to make work in film, a medium that required tons of collaboration, but burned bridges like it was his job. Maybe there's an alternate universe where Welles worked with a partner he could trust, starting in the 1940s -- someone he'd listen to when they said "wait, let's finish this first before you fly to another country". And I wish Welles, who wished other filmmakers would riff on F for Fake and borrow its cinematic language, could have lived long enough to see filmmakers do that -- once the means of production and distribution caught up.

The Revolution Will Not Be Funded is thought-provoking. Each chapter stands alone and I'm not all the way through it yet. A quote from Andrea Smith:


...the [nonprofit-industrial complex, NPIC] encourages us to think of social justice organizing as a career; that is, you do the work if you can get paid for it. However, a mass movement requires the involvement of millions of people, most of whom cannot get paid. By trying to do grassroots organizing through this careerist model, we are essentially asking a few people to work more than full-time to make up for the work that needs to be done by millions.

From Dylan Rodríguez:


arguably, forms of sustained grassroots social movement that do not rely on the material assets and institutionalized legitimacy of the NPIC have become largely unimaginable within the political culture of the current US Left.

From Paul Kivel:

The loss of vision that narrowed the focus of men's work reflects a change that occurred in other parts of the movement to end violence, as activists who set out to change the institutions perpetrating violence settled into service jobs helping people cope.

Kivel's chapter, "Social service or social change?" has many good "questions to ask yourself". And Madonna Thunder Hawk's chapter "Native organizing before the non-profit industrial complex" has a thought-provoking case study of what activists using a much more fluid volunteering model can accomplish.

Road Fever: A High-Speed Travelogue by Tim Cahill is a fun ride. I enjoyed the suspense of "will these two guys break the Guinness world record for driving the length of the Americas?" In particular, memoir about a stunt like this is nice because you get suspense but you're not actually worried that they're going to die in the undertaking. Cahill's an entertaining travel writer who lets us see his vulnerability around, for instance, feeling insecure about his masculinity when taking driving advice.

We Will Not Cancel Us: And Other Dreams of Transformative Justice by adrienne maree brown and Malkia Devich-Cyril is a small book I think I'll want to reread every once in a while. Like the pieces I rounded up on MetaFilter a while back regarding accountability and call-outs, and like Conflict Is Not Abuse by Schulman, We Will Not Cancel Us makes me aware that an audience is not a community, and that many groups I spend time in are not communities and are gonna have a much harder time meaningfully helping with accountability and repair.

Relatedly: Just today I ran into this reaction to highly populated online settings:

I think it makes sense to treat much of the internet as fundamentally adversarial, exploiting unpatched bugs in the human mind. Don't get got.....

Over the last few years I've slowly left all the massive public communities like hacker news and spent that time instead on regular video calls with distant nerd friends and hanging out in small communities that have a strong focus on actually making things.

and thought about this post about invite-only code-sharing groups.

Where do I want to spend my time? What do I want to invest in and build? Given that I'm going to spend some amount of my time in the ocean and some in tidepools, what proportion should I spend in either, and how should I shape and choose the pools I'm in? I'm chewing on this.

I really enjoyed Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown but only recommend it to you if you are, at least a little, a hippie. Pam Selle's review gets at why. I read this on a short sojourn in the outdoors and recommend that approach.

A great recent discovery: the fiction of Kate Racculia. First I read her Westing Game-inspired Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts, because of this book review, and found it funny, incisive, moving, clever, really insightful about human lives, sweet, and celebratory of ridiculous joys. Then I moved on to Bellweather Rhapsody and am now reading This Must Be the Place. Racculia writes novels about knocked-around people who sometimes make ill-judged decisions and find odd emergent relationships with each other, and -- like Philip K. Dick -- gives us the interiority of those characters and makes it comprehensible and relatable. In every book, sprinkled throughout, are little articulate crystals about particular kinds of experience that I don't think I've ever seen another author describe. My old lit teacher Mr. Hatch told us that literature is about different ways of being human, and I'm enjoying how Racculia does that.

Another recommendation from skygiants and at least one other online acquaintance led to me reading Evening Class by Maeve Binchy. It's sweet and engaging and suspenseful in a soap opera-y way. If you like multi-perspective braided narratives, check it out.

I've read a few T. Kingfisher/Ursula Vernon novels or collections over the past couple years -- very solid fun/comfort/laughs, often centering on gruff people doing hard things because they need doing, discovering their own talents and making unexpected friends. (Kingfisher is a pseudonym for Vernon.) A Wizard's Guide To Defensive Baking is fun, and Swordheart to me is particularly memorable because of the pragmatic, sensible, helpful priests of the White Rat.

Some time ago I started Celia Lake's gentle magical romance Mysterious Charm series with the first book, Outcrossing, and enjoyed it, and have now read the next two in the series. Sensible adults making considerate decisions and planning and speaking so as to achieve tasks while reducing inconvenience and hurt to others! What a concept! Very soothing and recommended.

I thought I would like Nghi Vo's The Chosen and the Beautiful more because I am rather a fan of The Great Gatsby. I found it a little disappointing perhaps because my hopes were wrongly configured (thinking that the author would find a way to insert this story into pre-existing dialogue without changing ANY of Fitzgerald's dialogue). But it was vivid and sharp.

And I read a bunch of the finalists for this year's Hugo Awards and to me a standout was P. Djéli Clark's Ring Shout. Harsh and visceral, didactic in the best way, and vividly atmospheric.