238 Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

gunsgermsandsteelby Jared Diamond, 1997

This is the second time I’ve read this tome on how the civilizations came to be how they are. The first time was for a book club, during which time I read the book as quickly as possible in order to have it finished by the discussion date and, as a result, I remembered very little of it. As I’ve been reading more books about history and culture and, especially, books about the history of racism, I’ve been curious to revisit Diamond’s ideas on why some cultures conquered others and not the other way around. The idea that some cultures dominated because they were morally and intellectually superior still somewhat persists and that is the exact idea that Diamond attempts to destroy. For Diamond, there no one culture was superior to another, some were just in the right places at the right times, aligned along the right axis.

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237 Red Clocks

redclocksby Leni Zumas, 2018

Feminist dystopian literature is certainly having a moment. The success of the fortuitously timed release of The Handmaid’s Tale series amid the current political climate has ushered in a new generation of stories that focus on one general idea: we women are terrified. Red Clocks is no different. A clear child of Atwood’s bleak imagining of a totalitarian control on reproductive rights, Red Clocks depicts a future in which embryos have rights, in vitro fertilization is illegal, only two-parent households can adopt, and Roe v. Wade is overturned. Of course, history tells us that this does not mean fewer women will have abortions, just that more women will die from them. This book is history repeating itself.

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231 Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant

eggplantedited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler, 2007

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: An essay anthology.

I’m a big fan of eating and of cooking and of reading so, naturally, I also love to read about the two subjects. I’ve lived by myself for most of my adult life and have never subscribed to the idea that I don’t warrant a nice meal. Sure, I have my share of scrambled eggs, grilled cheeses, and other quick fixes to fill me at night, but I also consider this my time to experiment, to try new recipes and new ingredients so that when I do cook for others, I’ll have some proven wins in my arsenal. Thus, Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone immediately appealed to me when I first saw it years ago. I’m glad that I finally took the opportunity to read it.

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229 The Communist Manifesto

communistmanifestoby Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, 1848

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: An assigned book you hated or never finished.

This may seem like a weird choice for me to pick up, but I took a look at my reading log and realized that I only had five tasks remaining for the Read Harder Challenge, so I decided to give it the ol’ college try. This fulfills my “book that you hated or didn’t finish in school” task and I’ll tell you why. The University of Chicago is obsessed with The Communist Manifesto. I had to read it for no fewer than three separate classes and I hated it. Confession time: I hated it so much that after my last day of class I went home and burned my copy of The Marx-Engels Reader. Lit a match and watched it as it gloriously crumbled into blackness. (In the sink, of course, because safety first.) Now, the burning of a book may sound sacrilegious to every single person who has ever read a book blog ever, including myself, but that should tell you how much I loathed this text.

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228 Fledgling

fledglingby Octavia E. Butler, 2005

Octavia Butler’s final novel is a vampire story, but it’s not your everyday “I want to suck your blood” tale of horror. While some elements remain true – the vampires hail from eastern Europe, including Transylvania, and they must feed on human blood for sustenance – their relationships with humans are symbiotic rather than predatory and they can never turn a human into a vampire, for the vampires, called Ina, are a completely different species. Fledgling differs from the typical vampire narrative in other important ways, because this, like so many of Butler’s works, is a story about race.

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223 Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

quietby Susan Cain, 2012

I’m an introvert through and through. I’ve long come to terms with this and have understood that I have to save up my social interactions for the times when they matter and I turn down unimportant social events if I don’t truly feel like attending them. Now in my late 30s, I proudly stay home on New Year’s Eve and don’t feel like I’m missing anything at all. I’ve also learned, through some unfortunate trial and error, that I’m best paired with extroverts and understand that any relationship I embark on with another introvert is likely doomed from the start. I know a lot about myself as an introvert and I accept myself as who I am. That said, there’s still quite a bit of joy to be found in reading a book that celebrates all those qualities that society at large tries to condition out of us.

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218 Wild Seed

wildseedby Octavia E. Butler, 1980

Wild Seed is the first book in the chronology of the Patternist series, but it’s the third book that was published (fourth, if you count Survivor, which is no longer in print). While I can see some benefit to reading these according to the series’ timeline – the setup and characters in Mind of My Mind make much more sense now – reading these according to publication date really allows you to see how Butler developed as a writer. Patternmaster and Mind of My Mind were perfectly fine books, but I found they lacked a certain nuance that attracted me to Butler when I first read her in grad school. In Kindred and now Wild Seed, it’s as if Butler has come into her own and fully realized the message she wants to convey with her science fiction. This is not just the story of two immortal beings but one of institutionalized gender and social inequality. Hell, if it weren’t for the immortal being business and the shape-shifting, this would essential be historical fiction.

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