I completely understand the impulse to turn one's brain off and spend the lazy days of summer reading chick lit novels with scrawly, loopy drawings of shoes or martini glasses on the cover. Or, maybe, not even reading at all, but instead celebrating in the sudden uselessness of critical thinking by enjoying happy hours, big-budget sequels to sequels, and reality TV along the lines of So You Think You Can Decorate, Dancing Idol: Las Vegas or similar.
However, except for that last one (because um, it would be awesome. I'm envisioning Steve Sanders doing the foxtrot with Dina Lohan, who is wearing Austin Scarlett's cornhusk dress from Season 1 of Project Runway, and then they'd have to redecorate Lindsay's suite in rehab using only $50 worth of Ikea products. Paula Abdul and Billy Joel's monotone child bride from Top Chef would host. Then in the finale Tim Gunn and Simon Cowell would show up and tell everyone how utterly ridiculous they were. LIKE YOU WOULDN'T WATCH THIS), I can't completely turn off my brain just yet. I have to power down a little, move from sprinting into a jog before I come to a complete stop, dripping with sweat from the intellectual exertion of it all.
If I don't, I might metaphor myself into a tizzy.
And so, I've been reading quite a bit over the last two weeks and have some reviews and recommendations for any other readers out there. Not just books; there are also some articles and essays I've recently read that have stayed with me:
"White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack" by Peggy McIntosh (via Feministing)
For all of the conversation about gentrification and race (if you want to achieve a unique combination of anger and utter despair, check out the comment thread on this DCist post), this article is the first commentary I've come across where the author simultaneously attempts to learn more about her own motivations and prejudices while successfully avoiding the blame game on all sides. This, in my mind, is the first step in getting things done-- keeping the focus on the reality of daily life, while being sensitive to the histories and motivations (blatant or not) that created it. Easy to say, a lot harder to do in practice.
Hey, speaking of anger and utter despair!:
Babylon By Bus by Ray LeMoine and Jeff Neumann and Donovan Webster
After slogging through The Secret History of the Iraq War and Fiasco, I picked this up expecting to get a Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure approach to the Iraq War. Surprisingly, this book has both the best on-the-ground reporting of life in Iraq leading up to Fallujah and the insurgency and the most cogent analysis of the disaster that was the CPA and American policy. This memoir of two twentysomething civilians who went to Baghdad as backpackers and wound up spending three months supervising the creation of Iraqi NGOs also points out some of the most basic ironies and unanswered questions of the war. For example, isn't it odd that every other American-led post conflict nation-building effort has been led by the State Department (or its contemporary, civilian equivalent) and Iraq's was led by the DOD-- meaning that the least democratic organization (the military) in the US was in charge of setting up democracy in an tribally-organized society that had no history of democratic tradition and was coming off thirty years of totalitarian rule? Well, hmmmm? In four years not once have I seen a reporter or political candidate make so clear a point. This book is compulsively readable and not to be missed by anyone who has ever wondered "exactly how did we get in this mess?"
And hey, speaking of messes we're in:
What is the What, by Dave Eggers
I want to give a copy of this book to every person who has ever whined about anything, ever. It had the power to shut me up for whole days after I finished reading it.
I have a whole huge stack waiting for me, but would love some more suggestions. What all are you reading this summer? Well, besides Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, obviously. I figure by July 21st I'll be sick of Paul Bremer and African genocide and ready for some wizarding mischief.