Ten books

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably seen some version of the “Ten Books” meme. A friend there tagged me, and I agreed to follow through … but I’d rather do so here. Partially because it’s a way for me to keep up my renewed commitment to blogging regularly, but also because I’d prefer not to feed the Facebook data-mining beast any more than I already do. (And they are keeping tabs on these sorts of things.)

[“JüdischerFriedhofKrems.Bibliothek.2007.11.24.PICT01” by User:Anton-kurtOwn work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons].

Alphabetically by author, with some brief comments, here are my Ten Books:

  • Paul Beatty, The White Boy Shuffle. One of the smartest, funniest, and most moving novels I know. I first read it because I met Beatty briefly at a very strange conference … and it has been a recurring presence on my syllabi ever since.
  • Leo Buscgalia, Love. Cheesy, to be sure. And I strongly suspect it doesn’t date well. But definitely a better choice of pop-philosophy/psychology to read when I was starting my college years than the Ayn Rand tripe that some of my dorm-mates found so compelling.
  • Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Formative texts for me when it comes to satire, wordplay, and warped humor.
  • Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love. It’s clearly more fashionable for people to cite Stranger in a Strange Land (#52 on the aggregate list those Facebook peeps compiled) if they’re going to mention Heinlein at all. And Stranger is a better book. But I happened to read Time Enough first. And even though I suspect that the grumpy, irascible, proto-libertarian Heinlein would have wanted nothing to do with the soft, cuddly Buscaglia, these are the two authors who most directly shaped my conception of love as a necessarily open, generous, and ever-multiplying thing.
  • bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress. An important book for helping me think about pedagogy as a political practice, and the book that (finally) led me to read Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I first read this in junior high school, and was much more excited then by the racier, sexier first half of the book: i.e., all the stuff about Malcolm Little’s pre-prison life as a street thief. I had to re-read the book many years later to see the value in the more politically charged second half of the book.
  • Greil Marcus, Mystery Train. I came close to putting Lipstick Traces in this spot instead. But it’s Marcus’ first major book of rock criticism and analysis that helped put me on the road to becoming a media/pop-culture academic in the first place.
  • Edward Said, Representations of the Intellectual. It makes no such claims for itself, but I’ve come to think of this as the most concise “how-to” manual for doing cultural studies there is. One of those rare books that immediately made me want to design an entire course as an excuse to teach it. (The extra curious reader can find syllabi for different versions of that course here and here.)
  • Ellen Willis, Out of the Vinyl Deeps. Another masterpiece of cultural studies analysis and criticism that doesn’t use the label. Easily the best single-author collection of rock criticism out there (and I still like most of the “big boy” collections from Bangs, Christgau, Marcus, and Marsh), and it’s a crime (though, sadly, it’s not surprising) that it took 40 years for someone to anthologize Willis’ music writing.
  • Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own. A classic feminist treatise on the gender politics of literature, but also an important commentary on the political economy of publishing.

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