books

A year’s reading in review (2016)

It is that time of the year when I post a brief summary of some of the non-work-related things I have been reading throughout the past year. Last year’s post is here. I find that when I log and make notes around what I read, I can look back later and get an idea of what I was interested in that year.

So, in rough chronological order, some of the things I read were:

Capitalist superheroes: caped crusaders in the neoliberal age, by Dan Hassler-Forest
I started the year with superheroes – one of my favourite subjects. This interest in superhero metaphors, public fantasies, and their connections with political strategies, was triggered by something I heard Slavoj Žižek saying in relation to Batman and the Joker. This book methodically examines how these fantasies come into being, and how they are less so reflections, but more co-constitutive, of narrative appeals in media and political discourse. Such narratives for superheroes include how they, like political forces, rationalise using their powers for certain causes and ideals (i.e. for ‘good’). Interestingly, the trend of superhero ‘origins’ stories is also a narrative appeal: an imagined erstwhile greatness that needs to be re-lived.

Political Ideologies: An Introduction, by Andrew Heywood
Then I got child-shamed into reading about ideologies when my kid asked me about Socialism and I thought ‘damn I had better swot up and provide a proper answer’. So I bought this and dived into it. All the UK media coverage early in the year about the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn and Socialism brought this up in a family discussion. A good overview of the principles to many foundational political ideologies.

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, by John Taylor Gatto
I first read ‘Dumbing us down’ about 15 years ago when I was seriously interested in schooling and my children’s education. Do I regret raising self-motivated smart-alecks who ask difficult questions about ideology, I hear you ask? Gatto’s basic thesis is one that has also been tackled by others: that schooling as it is practiced in many places (he’s NY based) actually nurtures dependency, social class position, and reliance on prevailing authority. This is based on the analysis that compulsory schooling was invented by industrialists to prevent the emergence and fostering of revolutionary ideas on the part of the poor. Things have moved on since then but Gatto’s arguments are still useful to read, especially in terms of current assessment regimes and their consequences, and of course the current marketisation of education.

Everyday Sexism, by Laura Bates
In interactions it’s the small things that matter. It really is. What some call ‘micro-aggressions’ are an important source for analysis. An important book, and good for those who think safe-spaces are only for people who like to play with Play Doh.

Academic Diary: Or Why Higher Education Still Matters, by Les Back
I enjoyed this book a lot. A fascinating insight into the workings of one particular academic’s life, presented as a series of diary entries appropriately structured around the timings of the academic year. It’s an ideal read for anyone who has begun – or is thinking of beginning – a career in academia. Ok so this one’s slightly work related.

Feminism is for Everybody, by Bell Hooks
Bell Hooks lays it out plainly here. A male friend recommended this book to me because of Bell Hooks’ writing style – she is an academic who ‘speaks’ effectively to wider audiences. Of course, though, my interest in the book is beyond its exemplary writing style. It’s a useful primer on feminisms, their different shades of emphasis, and how matters related to women’s rights intersect with issues such as class, race, and therefore beyond sex and gender alone.

Refuting ISIS: A Rebuttal Of Its Religious And Ideological Foundations, by Muhammad al-Yaqoubi
This is a brief Islamic theological treatise which constitutes a fatwa (edict) declaring daesh as outside the fold of Islam. Granted this is not hard to achieve with so much evidence of their crimes and brutality, but the theological argument might be necessary for those who feel they need a religious argument to decouple the religious claim from the movement. Historically, groups like daesh have been labelled in theology as ‘khawarij’ (=seceders).

The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality, by Luciano Floridi
The fourth revolution is about how our world is informational, and what this means for us. The ecosystem of information which we inhabit and which permeates our existence is the infosphere and according to the writer it is the fourth great revolution facing the human species. The first being the Copernican revolution, then Darwinian ideas, and the third Freudian. Now that we’re in the Fourth Revolution, we need a well-thought through philosophical framework for the ethical, politcal, and other challenges the infosphere brings.

The Pleasantries of Mullah Nasruddin, by Idries Shah
A collection of mythical and mystical stories from the Middle Eastern folkloric tradition. Always learn something new when I re-read Mullah Nasruddin’s stories, or sometimes just laugh out loud!

Northern and Proud of it, by Cari Rosen
Funny and full of interesting facts for us Northern folk.

Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse: And Other Lessons from Modern Life, by David Mitchell
A collection of his essays from the Observer. Funny and occasionally thought provoking. Read it all on a plane. What some would describe as ‘very British’.

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mask stall cape point © ibrar bhatt

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