05 Jul 2024 – Book round-up: April-June 2024

It’s been a quiet couple of months on the book front because I’ve been reading a lot of papers while I think about phd proposals (!!). Here’s what stood out.

As always, you can see the full list of what I’ve read this year on The Storygraph.


It’s Ursula K. Le Guin season. I started with a re-read of The Left Hand of Darkness. I remembered (spoilers) that Genly and Estraven have sex, but in fact, they do not.

After that, I read a collection of all her novellas, The Found and the Lost. Many stories are part of the Hanish Cycle, a few in Earthsea and a bunch of independent stories. I really enjoyed this collection; I often get annoyed with the abruptness of short stories but as novellas, they are long enough to be satisfying.

Buffalo Gals Won’t You Come Out Tonight is possibly the weirdest Le Guin story I’ve ever read.

The last story, Paradises Lost, is a story set on a generational ship going to a new planet and many of the stories in the Hanish Cycle involve planetary travel. It has me wondering what Le Guin would say now, in the age of Musk and Bezo’s space delusions.

I’ve been slow-reading Le Guin’s rendition of the Tao Te Ching concurrently and it’s so interesting to see how she weaves the philosophy through her fiction writing.

Read this wonderful passage in Forgiveness Day,

‘What do you do with your mind?’
‘You just let it wander?’
‘No. Am I and my mind different beings?’
‘So … you don’t focus on something? You just wander with it?’
‘No.’ ‘So you don’t let it wander.’
‘Who?’ he said, rather testily.
A pause.
‘Do you think about—’
‘No,’ he said. ‘Be still.’
A very long pause, maybe a quarter hour.
‘Teyeo, I can’t. I itch. My mind itches.’

As a person with an itchy mind, I felt this.

Another quote that jumped out at me, from A Man of the People,

Havzhiva thought of justice what an ancient Terran said of another god: I believe in it because it is impossible.

It’s month 10 of the ongoing and escalating genocide of Palestinians in Gaza and justice often does seem impossible indeed. But cynicism, as Mariame Kaba says, is counterrevolutionary and one of the things that helps me personally stave off the despair is learning. So I’ve been reading Palestinian stories and histories a lot.

Enter Ghost is the second novel by Isabella Hammad. I wrote about her debut last year. In terms of writing style, I preferred this to The Parisian. It is less sprawling and florid, though the stories are also very different. The Parisian is set in the early 20th century before the first Nabka, whereas Enter Ghost is set in modern-day Haifa and the West Bank.

It is good, I think, to read stories – even fictional ones – that represent what life is like for Palestinians and this book gave me a much better understanding of how varied their experiences are.

Hammad is very good at writing complex, nuanced characters, helping you get in their head and understand why and who they are. Even the unlikeable ones.

After I read it, I listened to Between the Covers podcast on the book, which was very good Worth noting that both the book and podcast are before Israel’s latest escalation of violence.. Hammad also wrote a great article in response to Zadie Smith’s extremely shit one.

Pride month has just gone, and I didn’t do any protests, parades, or parties. But I did 1) exist as a queer person and 2) read some queer books.

The Faggots & Their Friends Between Revolutions by Larry Mitchell is half novel, half manifesto, and full 70s energy. The story is stunning, the characters are weird and magical, the ideas profound. It’s giving ‘let a thousand genders bloom’. Also, the most beautiful illustrations throughout. It should be LGBTQ+ canon imo.

Speaking of LGBTQ+ canon, I would like to strike A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara off it. Emphatically.

I had heard it was a sad book. No less than 4 people told me not to read it, or that they didn’t finish it, because it is horrible from start to finish. I was pre-warned.

It’s even worse than they say. It is gratuitous in its misery. And through the few chapters that don’t directly deal with compounding horrors, you are just sitting there clenching because you know the good can’t last and Yanagihara is going to come up with something more terrible than you can imagine.

I’m so mad about this subject matter being called a ‘gay’ book and find it troubling that Yanagihara, a straight woman, continually writes tortured gay men. Read Andrea Long Chu and skip the book.


Dog politics: Species stories and the animal sciences by Mariam Motamedi Fraser

What a book!

Anyone who knows me knows that Mariam has been one of the most influential people in my life. Her work and ideas have changed me down to the core. This book encapsulates a lot of her thinking, particularly on species thinking and species stories. It’s so paradigm-shifting and politically important.

Anyone who lives with a dog should read it, but it goes much further than that and I’d really recommend for everyone. It’s open access.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

I was ready to be critical of a white woman writing about Indian communities but she makes a compelling argument as to why she wrote the book and I thought she handled the material very well.

It’s an ethnographic account of several families and people who live in a slum near Mumbai airport, but it’s not academic at all. It reads almost like a novel; the depth and detail are incredible and speak to her skill as both a researcher and a writer. I don’t believe objectivity is a thing, but Boo does very well in presenting the narrative without judgment or leading conclusions.

Beyond Sticky Notes by Kelly Ann McKercher

Finally got around to reading this, quite overdue, because there was some talk of a project I’m working on doing some co-design. Actually ‘co-design’ is too often used willy-nilly to just mean collaboration or research, and so I didn’t get to put the whole process into practice but I’m really glad I read it.

It’s packed with useful tips on workshops, facilitation, research, and design more generally. And it gave me more confidence to push for devolving power that little bit more. Highly recommend for anyone in digital, whatever your role.

The more power you have, the more you should read it.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One by Friedrich Nietzsche

I slow-read this over 6 months, a chapter or two in the morning before picking up my phone and starting the day. It’s such a good book to take time over.

The prose is so lyrical. I still don’t understand most of what he’s saying, in the sense that I couldn’t explain it to someone else. But it speaks to me on a vibes level. My relationship with our boy Friedrich is just beginning.

My copy was translated by R.J. Hollingdale and it’s worth comparing them. One evening over dinner with a few friends, we were reading out our favourite – or most outrageous – passages in different translations. It makes a big difference.

Here’s a tiny part I love.

Oh my soul, I have given you everything and my hands have become empty through you: and now! now you ask me smiling and full of melancholy: ‘Which of us owes thanks?
‘does the giver not owe thanks to the receiver for receiving? Is giving not a necessity? Is taking not – compassion?’ R.J. Hollingdale

O my soul, I have given thee everything, and all my hands have become empty by thee:—and now! Now sayest thou to me, smiling and full of melancholy: “Which of us oweth thanks?
Doth the giver not owe thanks because the receiver received? Is bestowing not a necessity? Is receiving not—pitying?” Thomas Common

Oh my soul, I gave you everything, and all my hands have grown empty for you – and now! Now you say to me smiling and full of melancholy, “Which of us should be thankful? –
does not the giver need to be thankful, that the taker took? Is gifting not a deep need? Is taking not a mercy?” FuckTheory, the best imo but not a book yet

Is gifting not a deep need?