[Thanks to Nick and Taymon Beal for giving me books.]
The Most Good You Can Do. Peter Singer’s book about effective altruism. Almost certainly skippable if you’re already an effective altruist; if you’re not, it might be interesting reading. I particularly liked the profiles of effective altruists, including a developmentally disabled EA (his exact diagnosis was not specified). For those who are concerned, there is no babymurder in this book or discussion of disabled people’s lives being less worth living.
Spartan Women. While Sparta is a horrible totalitarian fascist dystopia, it was at least a horrible totalitarian fascist dystopia that was nice to (citizen) women. Spartan women were well-educated, possibly better-educated than the men. They were permitted to take male lovers other than their husbands (with their husbands’ permission) and to engage in educational lesbian pederasty similar to gay male pederasty. They were allowed to drink and often exercised naked, which gained them a reputation as being unvirtuous. One of my favorite facts from this book is that a lot of what we know about Sparta was recorded during the Hellenistic period; therefore, some of it may be legitimate ancient Spartan traditions, and some of it may be Ancient Spartan Traditions™ invented as a sort of ancient Roman tourist trap. The author suggests that the brutal whippings of Spartan boys until they died are actually an instance of Ancient Spartan Traditions™ intended to appeal to the Romans jaded to extreme violence by the gladitorial games.
Rule 34. Near-future police procedural; the heroine is the head of the Rule 34 Unit, specializing in meme crime. Fun, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t get half of it on the first readthrough. The worldbuilding is superb: it’s rare to find an author who so deftly avoids the Scylla of “twenty years from now, we’ll have faster-than-light travel and everyone will live on Mars” and the Charybdis of the Mars travellers buying a newspaper.
Nevada. Now this is how you write a book about trans people. Binnie (herself a trans woman) has a firm commitment to avoiding improving literature and honestly reporting on the details of trans women’s lives, including those that would make them look bad in front of the cis people. I appreciated a book that actually talks about trans women’s sexual fetishes and the effect of gender dysphoria on sex. The description of dissociation in this book is one of the most accurate I’ve ever read. While it looks briefly like someone might have an epiphany or learn something, this never happens; Maria, the protagonist, starts out the book miserable and an asshole, continues to be miserable and an asshole throughout its entire length, and at the end seems to be miserable and an asshole for the indefinite future. The theme of the story, if there is one, is “god, gender dysphoria fucks people up.” Not hopeful, but a good read for its brutal honesty.
Unpacking Queer Politics. Sheila Jeffreys is one of the top three most enjoyable radical feminist writers I’ve ever read, along with Mary Daly and Andrea Dworkin. Jeffreys goes beyond the ordinary radical feminist hatred of BDSM, sex work, and trans people– although there’s enough of it in this book for anyone’s purpose. One rather gets the feeling that she picks her topics for hatred by closing her eyes, opening a dictionary to a random page, and pointing to a word. “Piercing! Okay! Now piercing is antifeminist!” For purposes other than hatereading, Jeffreys is at her best when she’s digging up dirt about sex-positive and liberal feminism; I particularly appreciated Anticlimax’s history of sex-positive rape and pedophilia apologia. However, Unpacking Queer Politics contains no such fascinating revelations.