What to Read this Month: July 2019

For additional summer reads, check out our Overdrive, New and Noteworthy, and Current Literature collections.


Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang

I devoured this book in half a day. It was amazing, and probably rates with some of my favorite sci-fi books like In Conquest Born by C.S. Friedman. The main character – Cas – is brilliant, compelling, a survivor, and a killer. And then she winds up in situations where she has to view the world beyond the lens of the axioms that fill her brain and literally surround her in daily life. Cas is also placed in a position where her actions affect the fate of millions (which brings to mind Dragon Age: Inquisition). Cas’s character in many ways reminds me of Clariel from Clariel by Garth Nix and Cat in Catharsis by D. Andrew Campbell.

Even better, apparently there’s a second book in the series that just came out!

Description:

A blockbuster, near-future science fiction thriller, S.L. Huang’s Zero Sum Game introduces a math-genius mercenary who finds herself being manipulated by someone possessing unimaginable power …

Cas Russell is good at math. Scary good. The vector calculus blazing through her head lets her smash through armed men twice her size and dodge every bullet in a gunfight, and she’ll take any job for the right price.

As far as Cas knows, she’s the only person around with a superpower…until she discovers someone with a power even more dangerous than her own. Someone who can reach directly into people’s minds and twist their brains into Moebius strips. Someone intent on becoming the world’s puppet master.

Cas should run, like she usually does, but for once she’s involved. There’s only one problem…

She doesn’t know which of her thoughts are her own anymore.


Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

A few pages into this book, I set it down. I knew I would want to read it in one sitting, and also hear the author’s voice before reading more. So I went to listen to the first few minutes of her book presentation at Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse. Two hours later, I had watched the entire presentation. And then I finally got around to reading the book. There’s so much to reflect on and absorb that I’m getting my own copy so I can underline to my heart’s content. Very approachable, compelling, and a wonderful author; I came to her from reading Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy, which I also recommend.

Corroborating Reviews:

As featured by The Daily Show, NPR, PBS, CBC, Time, VIBE, Entertainment Weekly, Well-Read Black Girl, and Chris Hayes, “incisive, witty, and provocative essays” (Publishers Weekly) by one of the “most bracing thinkers on race, gender, and capitalism of our time” (Rebecca Traister)

“Thick is sure to become a classic.” –The New York Times Book Review

In eight highly praised treatises on beauty, media, money, and more, Tressie McMillan Cottom–award-winning professor and acclaimed author of Lower Ed – is unapologetically “thick”: deemed “thick where I should have been thin, more where I should have been less,” McMillan Cottom refuses to shy away from blending the personal with the political, from bringing her full self and voice to the fore of her analytical work. Thick “transforms narrative moments into analyses of whiteness, black misogyny, and status-signaling as means of survival for black women” (Los Angeles Review of Books) with “writing that is as deft as it is amusing” (Darnell L. Moore).

This “transgressive, provocative, and brilliant” (Roxane Gay) collection cements McMillan Cottom’s position as a public thinker capable of shedding new light on what the “personal essay” can do. She turns her chosen form into a showcase for her critical dexterity, investigating everything from Saturday Night Live, LinkedIn, and BBQ Becky to sexual violence, infant mortality, and Trump rallies.

Collected in an indispensable volume that speaks to the everywoman and the erudite alike, these unforgettable essays never fail to be “painfully honest and gloriously affirming” and hold “a mirror to your soul and to that of America” (Dorothy Roberts).


Filling the Void: Emotion, Capitalism and Social Media by Marcus Gilroy-Ware

This extremely thought-provoking book explores the sociocultural dimensions of technology in general and social media in particular. Gilroy-Ware links the emotional distress that social media feeds and profits from to the culture of capitalism that developed from capitalism as an economic system. He describes it: “The ‘capitalism’ that must be addressed in relation to social media is therefore one that operates at a far broader scale – that of society itself” (99).

Description:

Why is everyone staring at their phones on the train? Why do online videos of kittens get so many views? Why is the internet full of misinformation? Why are depression and anxiety amongst the most treated health conditions?

Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have come to be an integral part of the lives of billions of people across the world. But are they simply another source of information and entertainment, or a far more ominous symptom of capitalism’s excesses?

Written by Marcus Gilroy-Ware, this book is an essential inquiry into why we really use social media, and what this means for our understanding of culture, politics and capitalism itself.


Anti-Social Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy by Siva Vaidhyanathan

I picked this book up after reading The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry) and learning a lot from it. Anti-Social Media did not dissapoint. It is timely, thoughtful, and compelling as it queries the unintended effects of a culture intertwined with the Internet.

Description:

One of the signal developments in democratic culture around the world in the past half-decade has been the increasing power of social media to both spread information and shape opinions. More and more of our social, political, and religious activities revolve around the Internet. Within this context, Facebook has emerged as one of the most powerful companies in the world.

If you wanted to build a machine that would distribute propaganda to millions of people, distract them from important issues, energize hatred and bigotry, erode social trust, undermine respectable journalism, foster doubts about science, and engage in massive surveillance all at once, you would make something a lot like Facebook. Of course, none of that was part of the plan. In Antisocial Media, Siva Vaidhyanathan explains how Facebook devolved from an innocent social site hacked together by Harvard students into a force that, while it may make personal life just a little more pleasurable, makes democracy a lot more challenging. It’s an account of the hubris of good intentions, a missionary spirit, and an ideology that sees computer code as the universal solvent for all human problems. And it’s an indictment of how “social media” has fostered the deterioration of democratic culture around the world, from facilitating Russian meddling in support of Trump’s election to the exploitation of the platform by murderous authoritarians in Burma and the Philippines. Both authoritative and trenchant, Antisocial Media shows how Facebook’s mission went so wrong.


The Rise of the Meritocracy by Michael Dunlop Young

Contemporary discourse surrounding meritocracy glorifies it as an American ideal. However, the origins of the term are more akin to Jonathan Swift’s modest proposal of eating babies. Young coined the term in his 1958 dystopian satire The Rise of the Meritocracy. From the year 2034, he tracks the history of British education, projecting the triumph of an IQ-based education system and the perils of a meritocracy come to fruition. The philosophical success of meritocracy is a bitter disappointment to Young, who wrote a Guardian article in 2001 titled “Down with Meritocracy.”

This should be required reading for any serious contemporary discussion of merit and its role in higher education.

Description:

Michael Young has christened the oligarchy of the future “Meritocracy.” Indeed, the word is now part of the English language. It would appear that the formula IQ + Effort = Merit may well constitute the basic belief of the ruling class in the twenty-first century. Projecting himself from 1958 into the year 2034, the author of this sociological satire shows how present decisions and practices may remold our society.

It is widespread knowledge that it is insufficient to be somebody’s nephew to obtain a responsible post in business, government, teaching, or science. Experts in education and selection apply scientific principles to sift out the leaders of tomorrow. You need intelligence rating, qualification, experience, application, and a certain caliber to achieve status. In a word, one must show merit to advance in the new society of tomorrow.

 


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