[Thanks to Cliff Pervocracy and Adelene Dawner for giving me books!]
[I have written an essay for the Foundational Research Institute about whether wild-animal suffering advocates should start campaigning for the euthanasia of elderly elephants. Answer: no.]
[Multiheaded1793, a bisexual neurodivergent trans woman in Russia, has been on a years-long quest to get anywhere except fucking Russia. If you would like, please contribute to her quest to be somewhere that isn’t Russia.]
The Humanities, Higher Education, and Academic Freedom: Three Necessary Arguments. This book is mostly an excellent defense of the humanities as a field of inquiry and discussion about how to protect academic freedom from the adjunctification of professors (for instance, through creating separate tenure-track teaching and research positions). However, in the first chapter, the author went on this utterly random rant about cognitive ableism in philosophy departments. It was delightful and I loved it (sample: “So for some years now, I’ve been in the position of saying to my colleagues in philosophy, “your silence with regard to cognitive disability is most dismaying,” followed in short order by “actually, your undervaluation of the lives of people with cognitive disabilities is even more dismaying. I liked you all better when you were silent.””) However, it seemed pretty unrelated to the topic of the book. Someday I want to be a famous nonfiction writer and get to include random twenty-page tangents about how much I dislike cognitive ableism in the middle of my books.
Oh Joy Sex Toy, Volume 1. I feel very weird about this comic. On one hand, I’m always in favor of people who sneak social justice messages into works that mostly aren’t about social justice. And surely it wouldn’t be an improvement if the sex toy reviews didn’t depict a wide variety of body types using the toys and include educational comics interspersed with the reviews. But still it feels very much like commodification and commercialization of sex positivity. To a certain degree, it feels like it’s saying “want to be a good sex-positive person? Well, here are the toys you should spend hundreds of dollars on! Here are the strip clubs and porn sites you should visit (you can tell they’re feminist because all the women have tattoos!) Be sure to visit the queer feminist sex toy stores– they’re super-awesome because they have more products aimed at bi women’s cis straight partners than they do at gay men!” It seems to be blurring the line between “these are sex toy reviews, and as someone who cares about sex positivity and body positivity I am of course approaching it from a sex-positive and body-positive perspective” and “the proper way to bring about a sex-positive revolution is buying shit.” Leslie Feinberg must be rolling over in his grave. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Zen in the Art of Writing. A lot of writing books seem to be written by people who can’t write. Ray Bradbury’s Zen In The Art of Writing does not have this problem; I regularly found myself rereading a page simply to savor the beauty of his prose. Zen In The Art of Writing comes down firmly on the side of authorial self-indulgence: don’t write for the money, don’t write for the critical acclaim, write because something makes your id sit up and shout and you have to write it. Write about the things that you care about, even if it feels like no one else would care about it. I am glad I have no lesser a light than Ray Bradbury to justify my belief that this is the best strategy.
Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible. Not any new content for anyone who’s been around the New Atheist wars for long enough. It hits the basic points: trusting reason and evidence over faith and authority, the intellectual bankruptcy of the idea of separate magisteria, blah blah I could have written this book when I was nineteen. A pretty good summary for people who want to know why atheists dislike religion so much. I was also pleased to note Coyne’s statement that most American Christians not believing the Eucharist is the literal body and blood of Christ is proof most Christians don’t know much about Christianity. Checkmate, Protestants!
All Your Worth. Elizabeth Warren’s book about personal finance. In a weird sense, it’s a sequel to the Two-Income Trap: All Your Worth is basically a book about how to avoid the two-income trap. She recommends using half your income for must-haves (rent, car payments, utilities, etc.), thirty percent of your income for wants, and twenty percent of your income for savings and paying off debts. She also covers a lot of other financial issues many people are confused about, such as where to invest your money (index funds), whether it’s a good idea to get a home equity loan (no), and whether you should trust mortgage brokers to not give you a mortgage that’s bigger than you can afford (no). I appreciate Warren’s commitment to plain language throughout the book: she uses simple sentence structure and vocabulary and clear phrases like “steal-from-tomorrow debt.” It’s important that there be a personal finance book everyday people can understand and that isn’t full of jargon and acronyms that make people’s heads spin.
Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens. If you get one book about classical Athens, make it this one; I have loved it for years. Courtesans and Fishcakes focuses on the Athenians’ attitude to pleasure– mostly food, wine and heterosexuality. Davidson is wonderful and right about everything. In some parts of the book, you can almost see him writing and deleting snarky sentences about the previous consensus of scholarship about Athenians. “Kinaedos is an insult referring to the passive partner in intercourse, which the Athenians found very shameful! Of course, there’s no actual evidence for this claim, beyond ‘being the passive partner is shameful in some other cultures.’ I mean, kinaedoi are effeminate, and of course passive partners are effeminate– never mind that men who were overly interested in women were considered to be effeminate, which might suggest that maybe Greek gender roles are a little tiny bit different than modern gender roles. And kinaedoi are referenced sometimes in comedies as having a lot of anal sex, including with the vivid term ‘cistern-ass’– never mind that they’re referenced just as often as being active sexual partners. Of course, kinaedoi probably evolved to be a general term of abuse, which we can tell, because kinaedoi was used as an insult for animals who don’t have anal sex at all. Only the ones who have lots of sex, though. What a weird coincidence. But kinaedoi definitely definitely means a passive partner in homosexual intercourse. History!”
The ‘fishcakes’ of the title refer to the Athenian passion for fish. Opsophagoi, or fish-eaters, sometimes spent their entire inheritances on fish; there are stories of men who trained themselves to eat the fish hot, so they could get it before anyone else, and of men who wished for necks like seagulls so they could swallow the fish for longer. Davidson points out the historical context of opsophagoi: for instance, the Mediterranean is naturally low on fish, making them more expensive; most meat in Athens was sacrificed and thus shared by lot among the people and cut with more attention to fairness than taste– making fish one of the few kinds of meat where people cared about taste. My favorite historical tidbit about opsophagoi is Plato interpreting the absence of fish in the Iliad as a sign of the virtue of the men in the Iliad, when it was probably actually just that to Homer eating fish was low-status.
Courtesans and Fishcakes provides a fair amount of information about Phryne, a hetaira (Companion, in the Firefly sense) who is one of the coolest women in history. Phryne, upon being prosecuted for blasphemy, defended herself via doing a striptease and saying “you who call the good beautiful surely must also believe the beautiful is good?” (She was found innocent.) Phryne offered to pay to repair Thebes’s wall, which was knocked down by Alexander the Great, on the condition that it was given the inscription “Alexander may have knocked it down but Phryne the hetaira built it up again.” Phryne once told a man that she would have sex with him for a hundred drachma (a drachma is about a day’s pay for a laborer), and then he said “but you had sex with another guy last night for two drachma!” and she responded “Well, then, the same applies to you. Wait until I want sex, and it will be two drachma.”
Critical Theory: A Very Short Introduction. I still don’t understand critical theory, but now I don’t understand critical theory and I hate Adorno with a passion, so I guess this is progress. (“Only elite culture can be revolutionary, popular culture is corrupted by capitalism”? What fucking kind of Marxist are you?)
[Content warning: factory farming.]
Eating Animals. I want to give a copy of this book to everyone I know who’s not on board with anti-speciesism. If the horrifying descriptions of the living conditions of chickens don’t get you (chickens are so overcrowded that some of them go insane and become cannibalistic; to prevent this, their beaks are removed without anesthetic, a procedure which may cause them chronic pain), perhaps the descriptions of slaughterhouses will (did you know that, by U.S. law, chicken may be composed of up to eleven percent feces-filled water? It’s true!).