2015 Reading Plan Summary

by tigermanifesto

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Back at the beginning of 2015, I prepared an annual reading list. My hope was not so much to read every book on the list as to set out a list of priorities for study and personal development. I feared that, once I graduated, it would become much more difficult to ensure that I was constantly learning and reaching past my current intellectual limits. In an ideal world, I could have read every book on the list, but given the fact that the first eight months of this year involved extensive archival research and writing of one kind or another, I only started to make significant progress on the list after August or so.

Given that, I’m satisfied with how much of the list I was able to tackle, particularly because it reveals the ways my own interests and activities wove through and around my reading and academic work. Without any more delay, here is the progress report:

Historical Books: 

  • Class Struggles in the USSR by Charles Bettelheim (finished volume 1 and one fourth of volume 2)
    • I already posted about this book to express my overall positive reaction. It’s a thorough and at times exhausting report on the early days of the USSR and the transformations the Bolsheviks both effected and underwent in those days.
  • Japan’s Capitalism: Creative Defeat and Beyond by Shinto Tsuru (started but did not finish)
    • This book is toxic to me, seemingly hell-bent on stopping me from reading it. Its dry, dusty Keynesian narrative of Japan’s postwar economic development has been impossible for me to read longer than ten pages. I’ll attempt this some other time.
  • Shinohata: A Portrait of a Japanese Village by Ronakld P. Dore (started but did not finish)
    • I expected this book to be more academic and sociological––and it is––but the prose style is much more casual than that would imply. I didn’t finish it because I had to shift my priorities to more urgent academic work.
  • The Ashio Riot of 1907: A Social History of Mining in Japan by Kazuo Nimura, Andrew Gordon, Terry Boardman (did not start)
    • I have not tried to read this beyond skimming the introduction. Not sure I’ll get around to this this year either.
  • Fanshen by William Hinton (Finished!)
    • Absolutely stunning. I’ve written two posts about it, and consider it essential reading for people who want to understand post-1949 China.
  • Rise of the Red Engineers by Joel Andreas (did not start)
    • I was about to start reading this when fellow blogger and comrade Workers’ Dreadnought suggested I prioritize Yiching Wu’s Cultural Revolution from the Margins, which I found excellent despite not writing a post about it. A post about it is forthcoming, but I have to consult my notebook of material I’ve written about it before I’m confident enough to attempt it.
  • Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Chile by Paul Sweezy (did not start)
    • I had no expectations of it and did not get around to it.
  • The American Film Industry by Tino Balio (did not start)
    • At the beginning of this year, I was quite passionate about the history of cultural industries, but that interest later diverted into a study of Japan and its relationship with East Asia’s popular culture. I never got around to this book, though, but I hear it calling from my shelf, so I expect it will appear on this year’s one-year plan as well.
  • Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West by William Cronon (did not start)
    • Too intimidating in length and not applicable to my immediate research interests.
  • Lineages of the Absolutist State by Perry Anderson (Finished!)
    • An excellent book, along with its companion. I already posted about this book as well, so check that out if you’re interested.
  • Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History by Sidney Mintz (Finished!)

Literature:

Sadly, this section does not merit individual reviews of each book because I only read two of the many items I listed at the beginning of the year. While I did experience a revival of interest in fiction after graduating from university, it did not bend the way I expected it to. My path wound back through some more obscure fantasy and science fiction instead. The only books I read from the 2015 list were Heart of Thomas by Moto Hagio and Pablo Neruda’s sublime Captain’s Verses translated into English. I did read the latter in Spanish as well, and large sections of the former in Japanese, but needless to say I understood them better in my first language. I also posted about both already to some extent.

Neruda kept me lifted up during some of the darkest knights of my life, lying lonely and despondent in hotel beds in Turkey. Many thanks to him for that.

I’ve already leapt to other books that do not appear on my list, including Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy and Jeff Vandermeer’s twisted fiction. Evidently my literary and fictional tastes are much less predictable than my academic inclinations.

Philosophy/Theory:

At the bottom of last year’s list was short selection of more theoretical/philosophical works I wanted to explore. Fascinatingly, the “me” from early 2015 wanted to avoid reading exclusively theory all year, which I certainly achieved. Again, I only started and completed two book in this category: The Possibility of Naturalism from critical realist Roy Bhaskar and An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory by Ernest Mandel. Both of them were useful in their own way, and I have given the Mandel text to my partner as a primer on political economy. Still, neither are what one would call life-changing, and I can’t comment on them with much enthusiasm despite their utility. Such is how it goes.

I did review Possibility of Naturalism here if anyone is interested.

Evaluation:

During my four years in university, my reading habits had to accommodate class syllabi and research priorities. During the first two years, I was able to wedge in a large amount of fiction reading as well as some extracurricular academic reading. The fact that I was able to read all of Gravity’s Rainbow during spare moments of a single semester remains a point of (probably misplaced) pride for me.

After the hot and exhausting summer of 2014, however, I threw myself wholeheartedly into reading Marxist and other radical political literature. That time marks the end of my fiction reading for almost two years. Only a Russian literature course could force me to spare time for fictional worlds and characters that had been such a staple of my imaginary life. Falling in love hardly helped either, of course.

Now, however, my reading is my own. No one sitting in an academic office can dictate what I read anymore. The onus has passed to me to maintain a rigorous personal, political, and artistic education, and I have been able to do so despite complicated work schedules. Whether or not I post a year-long plan for 2016, my readers will certainly be privy to the new angles and worlds I’ll be exploring this year.

Happy 2016, everyone.

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