What I’ve Been Reading This Month — August 2018

straight talk on tradeStraight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy, by Dani Rodrik — A few years ago, Dani Rodrik wrote one of my favorite economics books — Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science. Now he’s back with a nuanced discussion of globalization and trade. He lays out how much of the nuance around the impacts of trade gets lost somewhere between economists talking in a seminar room and economists talking to the media, and the profession is less credible as a result. He lays out an agenda for how to increase fairness in trade and how to deal with the losers from freer trade, as well as why trade policy often fails to do so. Rodrik weighs in on a few other topics, too, such as whether or not experts should advise repressive regimes on policy. As always, Rodrik proposes context-specific solutions. [Alice Evans called this book “pioneering, prescient, and likely to catalyse major public debate.”]

dead eyeThe Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea: A Graphic Memoir of Modern Slavery, by Vannak Anan Prum — A Cambodian man leaves his village to seek work and ends up enslaved on a Thai fishing vessel. He uses his artistic talents to help him survive. When he ultimately escapes, he draws the story of his ordeal. This graphic memoir is his story in his pictures. Heart-reading and terrifying. Highly recommended.

men explain 2Men Explain Things to Me — Updated edition with two new essays, by Rebecca Solnit — Solnit opens with an anecdote of a man explaining things to her that is by turns infuriating, absurd, and sadly hilarious. That essay and this whole collection goes on to discuss a range of gender issues with great fairness and deep thoughtfulness. I enjoyed this passage on the balance between hopefulness and realism: “Finding ways to appreciate advances without embracing complacency is a delicate task. It involves being hopeful and motivated and keeping eyes on the prize ahead. Saying that everything is fine or that it will never get any better are ways of going nowhere or of making it impossible to go anywhere. Either approach implies that there is no road out or that, if there is, you don’t need to or can’t go down it. You can. We have.”

behold the dreamersBehold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue — A Cameroonian immigrant couple struggles in New York City. Fascinating, heart-reading interpersonal dynamics set against the backdrop of the 2007 recession. Jende, the husband, has this to say about intergenerational mobility in Cameroon: “In my country, sir, for you to become somebody, you have to be born somebody first. You do not come from a family with money, forget it. You do not come from a family with a name, forget it. That is just how it is, sir.” Cristina Henríquez of the New York Times called it “a capacious, big-hearted novel.”

your black friendYour Black Friend and Other Strangers, by Ben Passmore — In this collection of comics, Passmore lays out his experience of being black in America, the experience of being imprisoned (briefly), having white, Trump-supporting relatives. He also includes some fiction and even science fiction. It’s sometimes emotionally challenging and sometimes just kind of weird, but it’s well worth the read. Hillary Chute of the New York Times wrote, “when Passmore observes daily life — reporting on its own kind of mutancy — his work explodes with force.”

flintstones vol 1The Flintstones: Volume 1, by Mark Russell and Steve Pugh — Russell and Pugh use Flintstones characters and settings as backdrop for serious social satire, looking at topics from marriage equality to war to consumerism to animal rights. The main characters feel very human (and not at all prehistoric), and the backdrop is littered with artistic humor in Bedrock’s signage (“Tonight! Primitive art!”; “Hominid Resources”; “Neandertall and Big Men’s Clothing”; “Spears and Roebuck”). This was among the best graphic works of 2017.

killing floorKilling Floor, by Lee Child — “If there were some sort of prize for Most Widely Admired Thriller Writer, Lee Child would win it time and again,” writes Sam Leith for the Times Literary Supplement. Hearing him discuss Child’s work on the TLS podcast, I decided to see what the fuss was all about and read the original Jack Reacher novel. Reacher, an unemployed former military investigator, drifts into a Southern U.S. town and kills a bunch of people in the pursuit of justice. This passage sums up Reacher’s philosophy: “I had no laws to worry about, no inhibitions, no distractions. I wouldn’t have to think about Miranda, probable cause, constitutional rights. I wouldn’t have to think about reasonable doubt or rules of evidence. No appeal to any higher authority for these guys. Was that fair? You bet your ass. These were bad people. They’d stepped over the line a long time ago. Bad people.” Both satisfying — in fiction — and deeply problematic at the same time. Reacher does really well in one-on-many fight scenes.

crusader 2Crusader, by Joel Galloway — Crusader opens on a man buried in the desert up to his neck, one eye lying a few feet from him — removed by his torturers — as buzzards circle. In the next chapter, the priest of the modern incarnation of an ancient indigenous religion performs a human sacrifice. In the next, a young man is possessed by a demon and a mysterious priest casts it out. Later, we encounter tricked-out motorcycles and helicopters, a secret cavern of treasure in the wilderness, and hidden labyrinths beneath a cathedral. This first novel by a friend of mine has it all! [I wrote more about it here.]

milk and honeymilk and honey, by Rupi Kaur — In this poetry collection, Kaur discusses sexual violence, love, sex, gender, and loss. The quality is widely varied. Some of the poems seem like lines I might find on a romantic bag of herbal tea (“you’ve touched me / without even / touching me”). But others effectively conveyed raw emotion or simple truth. Here’s one I enjoyed: “what terrifies me most is how we / foam at the mouth with envy / when others succeed / but sigh in relief / when they are failing // our struggle to / celebrate each other is / what’s proven most difficult / in being human.” (It reminded me of Gore Vidal’s quip: “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.”) Priya Khaira-Hanks writes in the Guardian, “The literary world is saturated with white male voices of dubious quality. Kaur’s poetry should be given the same freedom to be flawed.” Flawed, yes, but not without value.

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