My reading in August was dominated by listening to six books by the same author on a long, long road trip across Europe.
This was a strange reading month for me. I spent a lot of it on the road, so it was dominated by audiobooks—six of them, to be precise, all by Elizabeth Strout! What can I say: it was a lot of driving.
I also read a few other books—here are the details.
Internet for the People: The Fight for Our Digital Future by Ben Tarnoff
There’s been a lot of talk lately about what’s wrong with the internet, how it devolved from a utopian vision into a machine for surveillance and misinformation, etc. But what’s new in Ben Tarnoff’s book is the way he frames it as an issue of privatisation. He shows how the internet was built as a public resource, using public funds, and it was gradually privatised, carved up, enclosed in walled gardens, and run for profit. He makes a convincing case for the damaging effects of the profit motive and the urgency of taking back control.
The Wind’s Twelve Quarters by Ursula K. Le Guin
This was a recommendation from Stefanie in a comment on my recent post about living in an interconnected and deeply unfair world. Her recommendation was the short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, which is in this wonderful collection of stories by Ursula K. Le Guin. I’m glad I read it, and I hope I would also be one who walked away—or perhaps I would reject the premise of the story (a perfectly happy city whose happiness rests on the abject misery of a single child) and just help the child. I don’t know. Like all the stories in this collection, it was deeply thought-provoking, and that’s my kind of sci-fi.
Breaking Things at Work: The Luddites Were Right About Why You Hate Your Job by Gavin Mueller
The Luddites get a raw deal. They tend to be seen as mindless, fearful machine-breakers, and we use the term to describe anyone who refuses to engage with new technology or makes futile efforts to turn back the clock. But Gavin Mueller’s book shows that they were actually running quite a sophisticated campaign for workers’ rights in pre-union days, and they broke machines not from fear or technophobia but out of a clear-eyed understanding of the power dynamics at play.
Mueller also gives later examples of machine-breaking as acts of resistance to technology-enabled power grabs by employers at the expense of labour, right up to the present day. He also gives examples of “Luddite technologies” such as open-source software, which don’t destroy technology but use it as a way of putting a wrench in the machine of the profit-driven internet Tarnoff describes.
Loads of Books by Elizabeth Strout
I’d never read anything by Elizabeth Strout before this month, but now I’ve listened to six of her books:
- My Name Is Lucy Barton
- Anything Is Possible
- Amy and Isabelle
- The Burgess Boys
- Olive Kitteridge
- Olive Again
They were perfect road-trip books: great stories, compelling characters, rolling along in an easy narrative style from one story to the next. Lots of dysfunctional families, deeply held secrets, and a lot of emotional depth and moments of beauty and humanity.
What Have You Been Reading Lately?
I hope you enjoyed this quick roundup of my month’s reading and that you also read some good books this month. Let me know your recommendations in the comments!