Five Books You Need to Read This Summer, Part IV

Summer is nearly over so this will be the last post of this particular series. I think it would be worth your time and energy to check out the titles mentioned in previous posts:

5 Books You Need to Read This Summer, I 
5 Books You Need to Read This Summer, II 
5 Books You Need to Read This Summer, III

I will probably continue the series as a monthly piece, 5 Books You Need to Read, but we’ll see. With the new college semester starting up for me, the next few weeks much of my reading will be of first year student papers.

With that in mind, I give you a list of August reads that is rather heavy on the non-fiction side of things but that are some wonderful cultural studies and critiques.


White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America 
Nancy Isenberg
Viking, 2016

Given that this election cycle we’ve seen the rise and dominance of both radical (Sen. Bernie Sanders) and reactionary (Donald Trump) populism in the political arena, it makes sense Isenberg’s book should make an appearance. 

When read in conjunction with recent books like Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, Daniel Hatcher’s The Poverty Industry, and Chris Lehmann’s The Money Cult, Isenberg’s study reveals the how and why of what we could call white rage. And by ‘white rage’ I mean the aggressively ignorant and hostile mindset that has inflamed the populist masses (usually angry white men).

But Isenberg is no hack, some covert Marxist or capitalist apologist. She’s a scholar and a damn fine writer. In an interview over at Fusion, she makes it clear that her examination of class is an examination of our national character:

“We have a very deeply ingrained class geography. We all know about the importance of the rise in suburbanization in the post-World War II period. We know the idea of redlining and racial segregation that occurred with the rise of suburbia and the development of urban ghettos. At the very same time, those neighborhoods were increasing class stratification. It is race and class that defines our geography. The neighborhood you live in comes with its own set of amenities, its own set of privileges. We say, “If you work hard, you can buy your way into that neighborhood.” But it is not true. Sociologists have found that the major predictor of success in our society is the wealth that is passed from your parents.”

Isenberg writes a historical study that digs into what it means to be white in America, from the first to the last, and in doing so provides use with a useful tool in dissembling the deep racism that pervades white culture.


Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape
Jessica Luther
Akashic Books/Edge of Sports, 2016

Luther’s book comes out September 6th and will be a must read for fans not just of college football but all sport. As well as a vital, pragmatic text for everyday feminism. Unsportmanlike Conduct is a hard, steady look at the heart of rape culture and how it’s perpetuated.

I was fortunate enough to query Luther via Twitter (@scATX) to get an advanced copy. She is probably the one of the most articulate and incisive sport journalists currently writing able to meld cultural critique with the fastidious eye of a baseball stats fan and the intensity of a football insider. When I asked her what she wanted readers to understand most by reading her book she said that rape, sexual assault, and assault “is a systemic problem, not an individual one,” that the issue goes beyond an “individual perpetrator, individual coach, individual team, individual athletic department, individual university, etc.” What Unsportsmanlike Conduct seeks to reveal and challenge is the “playbook–the one coaches, teams, universities, police, communities, the media, and fans seem to follow whenever a college football player is accused, charged, and/or convicted of sexual assault.” She is writing about something that implicates her at nearly every level as well as each of us reading. Luther doesn’t do so to tear down programs or sport, but to get us all to rectify our actions, allegiances, and excuses.  

When Luther writes about “the intersection of sport and interpersonal violence” she is doing so from the place of a fan. It makes her work that much more complicated and honest:

“My fan playbook failed me. I wanted so desperately to have some way to make sense of the team I loved being piloted by a potentially violent player, one apparently shielded from consequence by his team, the university–my university–and the local police. I needed a new playbook. So, I decided to write one”

I don’t look forward to seeing all the MRA and other trolls who will no doubt spam her mentions once this is published. However, as a proper journalism, a steely feminist writer, a hardcore sports fan, and a grown-ass woman, she’ll be more than capable of dealing with the inevitable abuse (and has in the past).

I’m hoping to a write a longer review of her book later on but it’s just too important of a book to not mention early and often.


Bending Steel: Modernity and the American Superhero
Aldo J. Regalado
University Press of Mississippi, 2015

Although Regalado’s book was published last year, given just how superhero saturated this summer’s Hollywood box office was (and will continue to be), it makes sense to give it a thorough read. While Bending Steel is primarily focused on Superman, his creation and how it fits in with the long history of super-men in storytelling, there’s more than a little bit that can illuminate just what it is we are all looking for in our current crop of superheroes. 

Why did everyone hate Batman v Superman (for the record, I thought it was rather good and vastly superior to most Marvel flicks)? Why is it that Captain America is such a profoundly better character than Tony Stark’s Iron Man? How is it that we still so casually and effectively brand athletes as supermen (perhaps even unfairly) and take such great delight and sorry when they fail to reach or fall from the pedestal? Regalado gives us a ‘in’ to answering all of these questions and many others.

Our heroes and superheroes are always metaphors. Unfortunately, these metaphors are more complex than simple one to one comparison no matter what Stan Lee would have you believe. In both literature and cinema, the hero/superhero functions allegorically and that allegory is always rooted in a time and place. Regalado helps us deep our critical grammar to enjoy our literature and film more fully.


Casey Renee Lopez

There’s never a good reason not to read poetry. I know you think you have a reason, but that reason is one of idiot logic. So here’s a book of poetry that you should get your hands on, Queer Sex Words by Casey Renee Lopez (@caseyreneelopez). Lopez’s poetry is exactly what her title suggests, so those looking for more flowery or esoteric verse can and should look elsewhere. I take that back. Everyone ought to read this and everyone will find that the poems are accessible and deftly rendered. Lopez has given us a poetry chapbook whose aesthetic can only augment contemporary poetry. You can read a more articulate review over at Dirty Chai and Yellow Chair Review as well as an interview over at Reality Beach.


Orphan Black: Helsinki 
Graeme Manson, John Fawcett, Heli Kennedy, Denton J. Tipton, & Alan Quah
IDW Publishing, 2016

Also entering the fray are a bunch of comics. Now I include this for one reason, there will be new issues coming out over the next month. What this means is, we need to get caught up. I don’t read serialized comics, but adore it when the full volumes are released. Perhaps it’s a symptom or variation of binge-watching.

The third volume of Rick & Morty will release in October, a comic series that has grown to not simply parallel the series but augment it. Pretty Deadly, the only comic other than Saga that can lay claim to the mantle wrought by Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, will release its second volume at the end of this month. Invader Zim‘s second volume just came out, Bitch Planet‘s second volume is slated for November, the fourth volume of Shutter has just released, and the third volume of Sex Criminals just came out this summer. All of these comics or graphic novels if you prefer are some of the best writing, art, and imagining out there truly pushing the envelop of visual storytelling. 

But for me right now, I need you to read Helsinki. Orphan Black is not just one of best science fiction shows on television, it is one of the best shows on television. The manifold, deep, and nuanced performances by lead actor Tatiana Maslany take what could be an emotionless and convoluted storyline and make it vivid and thrilling. But to better understand that storyline and the motivations of the characters in this world, Helsinki is a supplemental work, if you will, that is just as equally dramatic and engaging. The story is able to stand alone but easily adds to the richness of the show. The grand thing about comic storytelling is just how it can become its own narrative while at the same time buttressing another narrative (we saw this with the Buffy the Vampire comics).


If you liked this article, then consider supporting me via my Patreon site. Even a small pledge helps.

This article was made possible thanks to support from my patrons:


Rachel Racicot 

Tyler Whitesides 

Patrick Casey

Nathaniel E. Baker

Amy Henry

Wckr Spgt 

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