In no particular order:
Octavia Butler, “Kindred.” Thanks to Ana Marie Cox and our “Space the Nation” podcast, I have been reading a lot more fiction than usual, ranging from classics like H.P. Lovecraft to more recent work by Cixin Liu. If I am being honest, however, the book that has stuck with me the most is the one with the least amount of sci-fi in it.
Butler’s “Kindred” has some time-travel elements, but this is not a book about temporal paradoxes. Rather, it is about what happens when a 20-something African American woman living in 1970s Los Angeles suddenly finds herself transported back to an early 19th-century slave plantation in Maryland. Butler wrote the book in response to hearing her peers in the 1960s decrying their ancestors as too subservient to the powers that be. “Kindred” spells out exactly what those powers were, and in the process manages to deepen both the complexity and the horror of what life in slaveholding America must have been like. Despite that heavy subject matter, it is also a hell of a page turner.
Louis Menand, “The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War.” I had the good fortune of hearing Menand speak back in the early aughts, when “The Metaphysical Club” was taking the book world by storm and cementing its place on my bookshelf. His topic that day was the role that art and culture played in Europe during the Cold War. It would appear that this was one of the germs that inspired “The Free World,” a book about what drove social and cultural change during this period.
I am saving and savoring this book for my vacation. Even the dust jacket seems designed to entice me, listing the individuals at the center of Menand’s narrative: “George Kennan and Hans Morgenthau, Hannah Arendt and David Riesman, Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, and Clement Greenberg; Lionel Trilling, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac.” Yes, please.
Menand’s prior work was one of the inspirations for “The Ideas Industry,” so I’m hopeful to find out how his latest work will fire up my neurons.
Marc Levinson, “Outside the Box: How Globalization Changed From Moving Stuff to Spreading Ideas.” I am on record as being unperturbed about the supply chain concerns that seem to be animating so many in 2021. Marc Levinson is someone who is more perturbed and mentioned his book to me in correspondence about this question. This is certainly a topic where the world might have evolved more rapidly than my meager abilities to detect it have noticed. The only way to test my priors on subjects like this one is to read more about the subject. So in addition to a mess of articles about supply chain disruption, I will be cracking open Levinson’s history of global value chains.