What I’ve Been Reading Lately

Besides student essays, I try to read as much as possible, which usually means I read about two to three hours a day.  This doesn’t seem much to me, and it probably isn’t.  Or it’s a ton. I can’t decide. Some days I think that I have done nothing but read and others I think I’m a fat slob, barely able to get my butt off the couch. Which isn’t true.  Or it is.  It’s hard to be judgmental when you’re having a good time.  Here’s what I’ve been reading lately.

Drift, by Rachel Maddow. I’m conflicted about Rachel Maddow on a number of fronts.  Sometimes I love her, when she’s building a case and making an argument and using a ton of research, when she is going on the attack or when she’s being attacked and defends herself flawlessly. I hate her when she uses television time to make cocktails, or when I know she doesn’t care about what she’s talking about, but she keeps talking, or when she says in interviews that she doesn’t watch television.  How does a host of a television show not watch television? That is just like me teaching a writing class but refusing to write or read anything. It is possible, but it’s annoying.  I’m a doctor, but I don’t go to doctors. I prefer witchcraft.  If you think the medium that you use to give me information is beneath you, why am I watching your show?

But!  But, she wrote a great book.  Drift is about how the military has “drifted” away from its purpose.  The military used to be used to protect us and serve our national interests.  Now, well, the military pretty much does what it wants.  This theory explains why we went to Iraq even though most Americans didn’t want us to, how we are still in Afghanistan even though no one wants us to be there.  Rachel Maddow begins the book making a very solid case as to why (hint: it’s has something to do with the draft), and how the Reserves plays into it.  I’m butchering here her, but essentially, Americans don’t “feel” war anymore.  We go about our days and war is happening but it doesn’t affect us.  There are no protests because we aren’t suffering.  It’s a very compelling case, one that got me through her entire book in a two week clip. He’s a quote:

A 2011 Pew poll found that 84 percent of post-9/11 veterans felt the public didn’t understand the problems faced by service members and their families. It also found that more than two-thirds of Americans believe the disproportionate burden shouldered by those who have served is “just part of being in the military.” Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are nearly twice as likely as veterans of other wars to say they found readjusting to civilian life to be difficult. The distance between the lived experience of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and the rest of the country since 9/11 ought to unsettle all of us, not just veterans….As we’ve pushed military experience further and further away from civilian life, we’ve also pushed decision making about the use of the military further and further away from political debate.

Rachel Maddow talks about the Vietnam war, the Cold War and the first Gulf War with amazing clarity. Her chapters about Ronald Reagan are inspiring and it makes me even more annoyed that Reagan is viewed as some sort of “higher power.”  Maddow, however, refuses to discuss our current situation, the Afghanistan war, the Iraq War or the “War on Terror.” I think she does this because she knows there is other writing out in the inter-spaces and that she’d be wasting time here as opposed to breaking new ground. Still, this book could have been twice as long and I would have read every inch of it.

Beyond Outrage by Robert Reich.  This book sucks.  It’s short. You can finish it in a day. It’s also cheap.  If you dig under your bed, you can find enough change to buy it on Amazon. But Robert Reich isn’t saying anything that I can’t find in a newspaper. Ok, ok, let me stop.  Some of you might know this, but most of you don’t. I’m a really big fan of economics writing. I love reading economic books. I don’t understand half of what they say, but I’m getting better. Ezra Klein is one of my favorites.  Read his Wonkblog every day. It’s fantastic.  I know I’m getting a little smarter when I read a book on economics and I not only understand all of it, but I even disagree with it.  And some of his statements are so general, and so partisan, that is sounds like someone from the Obama campaign pretty much wrote the whole mess.

Average consumers and small businesses are still hurting, but corporations that are large enough to finance fleets of Washington lobbyists are raking it in. Big agribusiness continues to claim hundreds of billions of dollars in price supports and ethanol subsidies, paid for by American consumers and taxpayers. Big Pharma gets extended patent protection that drives up everyone’s drug prices, plus the protection of a federal law making it a crime for consumers to buy the same drugs at lower prices from Canada. Big oil gets its own federal subsidy, paid for by taxpayers.

I’m not saying that I’m turning my liberal card in. What I am saying is that it’s important to read as many different sides as possible and not just focus on one side.  Robert Reich isn’t objective in his book, and that undermines the serious subjects that he brings up.

Rebel Cities by David Harvey.  On the opposite extreme is David Harvey.  Let’s just…I mean…Just..here.  Just read this.

Urbanization, we may conclude, has played a crucial role in the absorption of capital surpluses and has done so at ever-increasing geographical scales, but at the price of burgeoning processes of creative destruction that entail the dispossession of the urban masses of any right to the city whatsoever.

The theory, and one of the biggest problems with capitalism, is what to do with all your money.  I’m not talking about that extra hundred bucks you have because you stopped smoking cigarettes.  I mean, the super-rich, people that make billions of dollars. What do they do with it?  Well, turns out, they invest it.  But, it’s what they invest it in that’s important.  David Harvey argues that cities are used to “store” money by the rich.  When they do this, they take the cities from people who rightfully own them:  us.  It sounds odd, but think about it.  How often are great, tiny neighborhoods turned into Georgetown-like strip-malls?  Why does it seem like cities are constantly building things for corporations or “to attract business” but can barely fix sewage systems or make mass-transit?  This book is great, even when I have no idea what he’s talking about.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.  I don’t read as much fiction as I would like, probably because I personally force-feed myself fiction in graduate school.  A Farewell to Arms is an easy read, with simple descriptions and dialogue and plenty of that “Be a man, damn it” type passive-aggressive angst that makes Hemingway Hemingway.  It’s a solid book and I’m slowly becoming a strong Hemingway fan again.

It does and doesn’t matter what you read. You should try and read books that make your head hurt, at least a little. But, if you’re reading anything on a regular basis, you have my deep respect.  If you don’t read, well, psych, you do read. You read this blog post, didn’t you? Yeah. You like how I pulled that one off, right?