06 Sep 2023 – Book round-up: June-Aug 2023

The most memorable books from the last few months. You can read the previous round-up or see the full list of what I’ve read this year.

This time, I’m including some of my academic research. I’ve just finished my dissertation on farmed animal sanctuarie. When a friend read a draft, they questioned whether the conditions on sanctuaries are indeed better than farms. That question had me shook!

I often forget that farming practices aren’t common knowledge, which is ironic given I actually wrote a section on the invisibility and distance of animal agriculture.

So here are some texts I’ve read recently. There are, of course, many more and I’m always up for giving personalised recommendations if you want.

But let’s get on with it. Animals first, then a few others.

The Cow with Ear Tag #1389 by Kathryn Gillespie

Gillespie provides an in-depth account of the dairy industry in the US. I can tell you from reading UK-based work like Nimmo’s book about milk and Food and Animal Welfare, it’s not that different here. An interesting insight I took from this book is that even smaller, family-owned farms end up adopting intensive farming practices just to keep up with factory farm profitability.

If you can’t be bothered to read a whole book, this 1 min video from rapper JME (Insta link) sums it up pretty well. Also, this film by Andrea Arnold, in which I wept non-stop for 80 minutes in the ICA cinema.

Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight by Timothy Pachirat

Another ethnography, Pachirat gets a job at a slaughterhouse and writes about the three jobs he has while working there. The book isn’t vegan propaganda or a value judgment about eating animals, it’s just a description of what goes on.

It is horrible! I could barely read parts, but I am very soft-hearted about animals. Also, labour conditions are dreadful (we all know this) and the disgusting things that pass ‘quality assurance’ would put me off meat even if I didn’t care a hoot about animals or workers or the earth.

In my anguish upon finishing, I posted an Instagram story saying I think everyone who eats meat should read this book. Outside polemical Insta content, I actually do not want to tell anyone what they should do. But if you want to learn more about how the animals get onto your plate, it’s a good start.

Other readings on farming

For a vignette of other industries, I recommend these papers by Dinesh Wadiwel on chicken and fish, respectively, and this video lecture on pigs (starts at 02:44). They are pretty theoretical but you can also skip around for the descriptions.

If you want to go deeper, The War Against Animals, also by Wadiwel, is a favourite. I come back to it again and again.

Beyond farming, Saving Animals: Multispecies Ecologies of Rescue and Care by Elan Abrell, is one of the few ethnographic books on sanctuaries (in fact the only one I could find, but I never assume I have found everything). Most are written by the sanctuary workers themselves. As such, it includes good critiques and was influential in my own thinking and research at the sanctuary.

Allowed to Grow Old by Isa Leshko

A photography book with a few essays interspersed. Read this as a palate cleanser from the horrors of all the others.

The images of old farmed animals are beautiful and emotional. How rarely we see these animals even as mature adults, much less elderly. Leshko presents them with dignity.

It reminds me of the 22-year-old cows at my research site, who I am low-key in love with.

Black and white profile portrait of a white goat
Abe, Alpine goat, age 21. Courtesy of Isa Leshko

Space Crone by Ursula K. Le Guin

A collection of short stories, essays and talks. I had very high expectations for this, slightly dashed by the fact that I had already read several of the stories in other books earlier this year. That, and I’m not totally convinced that a talk transcript makes for a good essay.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed quite a few of the essays and the excerpt from Always Coming Home prompted me to buy the book last weekend.

Rememberings by Sinéad O'Connor

There are very few times I think an audiobook provides a better experience than reading a physical copy. One of them is when the author is also the narrator (for example, Arundhati Roy reading The Ministry of Utmost Happiness).

Listening to Sinéad read this was very special. Her death hit me harder than I expected. Listening to her say she’s looking forward to growing old, a few days after she died, was a gut punch. Her story is harrowing, but she is also extremely funny. This feature on her music is also great.

Three novels

If the fiction theme that stood out in the last roundup was magick, this time it’s historical fiction. These three were audiobooks I randomly found on Libby. Love a library for some serendipitous finds.

When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin D. Yalom, chosen solely for the title. I’m on a bit of a Nietzsche kick. Most of the book is Nietzsche in conversation with a doctor. Freud makes an appearance. I am not a Nietzsche scholar, so who knows how accurate the representations of his philosophies are, but the book was very entertaining.

Black Butterflies by Priscilla Morris traces the story of an artist who is stuck in Sarajevo in spring 1992, without her family. But she is not alone, for it is a story about finding and making community. I never feel like I know enough of any histories, the Sarajevo siege is no exception, and so found it very compelling to read alongside an open Wikipedia tab.

The Parisian by Isabella Hammad is not, in fact, about a Parisian but about a young Palestinian man who studies in Paris during WWI and then returns to his hometown of Nablus. It’s quite long, perhaps slightly unnecessarily so, and very meandering. But it is powerful to read about daily life in Palestine before annexation and occupation and the descriptions are beautiful and expansive.