Saturday, September 12, 2015

Favorite Books I Read This Year (So Far)

I managed to get my hand on some interesting books this year. I'm trying a new thing where I read more selectively, rather than just binge, though book binging isn't the unhealthiest habit to acquire. Here's are a few that should have gotten more press:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (new)
This one was longlisted for the Booker Prize as a dark horse candidate. In the hands of a less-skilled writer, I would have dismissed it outright. Abuse novels are easy, formulaic, and often terrible. The suffering is so intense it borders on pornographic, but the writing is exquisite, and I don't throw that word around casually.

Gallieo's Middle Finger by Alice Dreger (new)
In a year where it seems everyone has an opinion on the influence of activism in academia and science, Alice Dreger does a thorough job exposing the conflict between ethics and activism. Is it transphobic? No, and I'm confident enough to make that call because I think it's important to question things even if it's not politically correct to do so.

Bipolar Expeditions: Mania and Depression in American Culture by Emily Martin (old)
I like books about mental illness that are "thinky" rather than "feeling," but they're few and far between. Memoirs of madness, unless they're done really well, tend to follow a similar narrative of recovery and redemption, and everything else is either dense and pedantic or banished to the self-help ghetto. This, though a decade old, is a good gap-bridger. Plenty of personal anecdotes spliced with theory and history. See also Petey Whybrow's A Mood Apart.

Heretic by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (new)
In a perfect world, Ayaan Hirsi Ali would be a feminist icon, but feminism has branded her Islamaphobic and therefore awful. I don't agree with her always, but I'm a Westerner who didn't grow up in the religion so I don't think it's my place to demonize her either. I get it. It's hard to compromise your ideology, but hers is still and important voice that shouldn't be shut out because it's not "correct."

The Shadow University by Alan Kors (old)
It's hard to believe this book is almost two decades old, it seems so... contemporary. Or not. Most of the recent sniveling over freedom of speech on campus isn't even new, it's been around for decades. Only recently has social media and giving every voice a platform brought it out of the classroom and into the mainstream. This is a good book for explaining how we got there.

Visions and Revisions: Coming of Age in the Age of AIDS by Dale Peck
I loathe identity politics, but I do identify hard with my own generation. Not only because it feels we're disappearing -- the older of us sucked up by the baby boomers and the younger too happy to be absorbed by the millennials -- but because coming of age sexually during the height of AIDS panic is such a specific generational marker.