Friday, August 22, 2014

Yes, she still reads books.

But I don't have time to write book reports anymore. It's sad. So you get the short version. (And I can keep track of what I've read.) So, in no particular order, the books I've read and forgotten to write up:

  • Thomas Peele- Killing the Messenger. If you have lived in Oakland for at least 10 years (ish), you know "Your Black Muslim Bakery." (If you came too much later, the Beys were on the decline, though more recently they seem to be coming back.) If you follow Oakland politics, you know the Bey family. Peele has written this amazingly fast read- true crime- of the history of the Black Muslims and what happened leading up to the murder of Chauncey Bailey in 2007. YBMB is Oakland, and maybe Oakland is the only place that YBMB could have happened. OPD is so tied up in the murder of Bailey, as is West Oakland and even East Oakland. I couldn't put it down. That said, the facts are a little murky, but maybe that is the nature of working with an insular religion that sees itself as constantly being persecuted. Which leads me to the next book. Recommended: very readable nonfiction. Also good for people interested in Oakland.
  • Lawrence Wright- Going Clear. I read Killing the Messenger months ago, but finished Going Clear a couple of days ago. Wright, author of the Looming Tower, has written what is apparently "the" academic book on Scientology. If all you know about Scientology is the front of the tabloids about Tom Cruise, then basically you're just like me. Wright has written a book that aims to put Scientology in the context of other new American religions. He explains the draw of the religion to people, especially celebrities. And the comparison to the Black Muslims is one someone could make (maybe I'm making it). The difference? YBMB employed unemployable dirt poor young black men and women, often straight out of prison, in Oakland who felt they had nowhere else to turn. There was often sexual abuse by whichever Bey was in charge at the time. And by employed, I mean provided housing and food and promised money that often never came. YBMB was in the business of getting rich, often through shell games. They didn't really get rich. Scientologists, in the meantime, employed middle class white young people and budding celebrities, often in Hollywood. Many of these signed up to do work for one billion years (literally) for little or no money. The Scientologists, also in the business of making money, were wildly successful at it. And once again, the insularity of the group make the facts a little unclear. Wright's book makes heavy use of accounts by people who have left the group, and of course those still in vehemently deny these accounts. And contrary to the article linked above, I actually appreciated the even handedness. Recommended (also readable nonfiction) for those interested in this bizarre religion and those who like to read about religion.
  • Melissa Gira Grant- Playing the Whore. Now for something completely different. This little tiny book took a very long time to read. A very important and not particularly readable book on the discourse of sex work, Grant urges us to stop panicking over sex work and start listening to sex workers themselves. It would be nice if we stopped talking about the terrible horrible trafficking that happens and started discussing what really happens, the way the people involved in the work really wanted us to.
  • Marc Perleman- Barbaric Sport: A Global Plague. I was so excited to read this book. I had been waiting to read it for years, it seems like. They never had it at the library and Link+ didn't have it. I finally got it. It was also a tiny book. And I never finished it. Perleman is a Very Enthusiastic writer, and from the beginning I could tell that, as my boyfriend likes to tell me, he was taking things too far. I agree with him that many large-scale sporting events are quite cruel to the host countries (see this year's World Cup in Brazil or the Olympics in China) and that often teams are as much about other-ing as the are about inclusivity, but if I wrote this book review as emphatically as he wrote his book, you would have given up, too. Unreadable nonfiction. Oh, and translated.
  • Brittney Griner- In My Skin. Leading me to the next book, which is not a traditional themacinator read. Griner wrote In My Skin to tell her story as one of the first (the first?) out professional athletes. Out since high school, Griner played basketball at Baylor University, which has a specific anti-homosexuality clause in its rules. She's never quite convincing in saying that she didn't know about that rule when she committed to the school as a sophomore, though it is believable that Coach Kim didn't tell her. Because as Perleman argues, sports are about winning, not about inclusivity. Fast read, ghostwritten, interesting (but now old, which is good!) story about growing up gay and forging your path. Unsurprisingly, the WNBA seems accepting of lesbians. 
  • Sudhir Venkatesh- Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy. This is the worst book that I've finished this year. But I'm on vacation and it's one of only 4 books that I've got with me. Meanwhile the Kindle readers with me keep reading and reading and reading and reading. Pro-Kindle argument, for sure. Venkatesh seems to have written a popular (as in audience- no idea if this book is popular or not- I doubt it) book about how he is searching for what to write about in order to fulfill the needs of his academic writing requirements as a professor at Columbia. I kept waiting- he kept finding and discarding topics and then saying "aha, I've found a topic" and then finding another. This seriously was a book without a plot or a topic. I learned some stuff about the "underground economy" in New York while feeling like Venkatesh, rather than having written anything sociological, was doing some sort of voyeuristic nonsense. Yuck. Don't touch it.