Progressive-ish Reading List Chat

After a brief exchange with SplinterRIP, I decided to get this shit started. I also really like thoughtful/political dystopian fiction but I’ve had to take a break from that because my imagination is out of control right now.

On my current to-read list:

A couple recommendations from books I’ve read (heads up, these are both BLEAK):

Add your own!

I don’t know about y’all, but I have an issue right now where it is taking me forever to get through books. I say I want to read stuff like is on this list, and then I am so overwhelmed by the world I always don’t want to read it *right now* and then I pick up some fiction or something a little easier. Then that easier thing feels shallow and futile when the world is burning.

Then I read nothing.

Anyway, our modern era has ruined books for me.



  1. Honestly, I used to have the same problem and I think it was because I–like you–was reading books that clearly laid out how fucked everything is. I’ve read everything by David Cay Johnston, as well as other books like The Second Civil War, which dig deep into the actual “why” and “how” of the fucked-ness of things. I started to get really apathetic because the lesson I learned was, “this has never gotten better. It has always gotten worse, and rich fucks will always hold the reins of power no matter what.” So I decided to mix up my reading choices. I still read a lot of non-fiction, but I will also throw some fiction in there for the occasional break. Most of my non-fiction reads are history books, such as The Bastard Brigade by Sam Kean (very readable story of atomic espionage in WWII with the Kennedy family as significant players), Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides (an excellent book which details very well just how and why New Mexico–and the native tribes who lived there–are still dealing with the economic and racial fallout from 150 years ago while still being an engaging read), The Children by David Halberstam (an incredibly detailed history of the college students who were the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement), and Hellhound on His Trail (another excellent Hampton Sides book about James Earl Ray and his obsession with MLK Jr, which also takes a deep dive into King’s relationship with the Movement in it’s later days). They provide me with my need for good reading content that also happens to give me a context into how screwed we are without getting in my face about it.

    • Glad I’m not the only one. Thanks for those recommendations! I have trouble focusing on most fiction right now but honestly I have trouble focusing a lot. I should definitely get back a little more into some interesting history. I also could use a little reading about some heroes I think (got my eye on your rec The Children for that).

  2. Real life is too painful for non-fiction right now. I’ve just been reading fiction exclusively for the last year or so. I’m either reading fairly hard sci-fi set in the distant future or I’m enjoying popcorn fiction. Lately it’s been the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. They’re perfectly light, silly, and brainless and that’s absolutely what I need to survive the unending gloom of reality these days.

  3. Sorry for the wall o’ text, and lack of links. I’m bad at this.

    This is a shameless copypaste from my comment on a thread at The Root the other day. I recommend all of the books I’ve read, but it’s a long list, so I give a hasty 1-line summary of the book to let you pick and choose which you read.

    The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap
    This was an interesting book that highlighted a lot of the specific bullshit that went on to let the powerful off the hook during the recession, directly compared to poor people that had their lives destroyed by the same policy.

    Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland
    An excellent read about how many poor, rural whites would gladly die of preventable shit if it means POCs have to suffer too. It’s not just healthcare, it also covers gun control and government assistance.

    The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
    A deep dive on how the prison system is designed to further white supremacy.

    A People’s History of the United States
    A chronicle of US history from the viewpoint of those who fought against those who would continue to oppress.

    Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965
    An unflinching look at the Civil Rights era.

    Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II
    This book was a brutal look on how slavery continued in the South, with very little change, after the Civil War.

    The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
    I just started this one, but it’s about government policy reinforcing or creating segregation, and how those policies contimue to impact us today.

    Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America
    I haven’t read this yet, but it’s about how we got to where we are today (hell).

    I, like a lot of the other folks here, alternate between reading heavy stuff like what’s above, and garbage to give me a few days to reset. I almost exclusively read nonfiction, and usually books about heavy metal (next up: Heavy Tales by Megaforce Records’ founder, Jon Z), hockey, or misc. people that I find interesting.

  4. I’m really liking War on Peace by Ronan Farrow and next up is Blowout by Rachel Maddow. I also find it hard to get in as much reading as I’d like. I used to commute an hour each way via train and loved it because I was reading 20-30 books a year. I start feeling dumb if i don’t read enough actual books.

    • Oooh I will have to check out Ronan’s book, I have been meaning to but I forgot about it. Hadn’t heard about Maddow’s but I’m not her biggest fan. But I don’t hate her.

      • My theory is that Rudy is being set up as the fall guy. Parnas stooged for Rudy, and now he’s tossing out evidence like candy from a parade float. After the Senate sham trial, they’ll claim that Rudy went rogue and did all this stuff on his own without Trump’s authorization. That will “justify” the mock trial and the MAGAs will be able to say, “See? It wasn’t Comb-over Jesus, it was Rudy, all along! Never trusted him, even if he did marry his cousin — he’s from New York, y’know.”

        And Rudy’s too dumb to see it coming.

  5. I recently read “And Machines Shall Surrender” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew. I knew getting when I bought it for my Kindle it would be super progressive for a dystopian cyberpunk Sci-Fi book. And while I liked quite a lot of what there, I have to admit it was too far for me personally.

    The author has characters that use the Xe/Xer pronouns and while I am all for inclusivity and representation, this pushed my boundaries. I hate to say that it put me off the book, but it did. Which is a shame because I really did enjoy the world-building and intrigue of the overall story.

    Not sure if this is what you’re looking for with this list. But I thought I’d mention the book because it is quite good. I just have to work on being more open to different people and get more comfortable with others having a different view on gender. (?) Maybe. I’m not sure. All I know is that it’s my fault I didn’t fully embrace all the details in the book.

      • The books deals with AI inhabiting humans so it did make it a bit hard to follow at certain points as there were non-binary AI/Human characters with those pronouns and I had trouble keeping track of characters once those pronouns were used. It’s also the first time I’ve consumed media with those terms so it was an adjustment for me to process them.

        The book also some mildly explicit sexual encounters that I could have done without I suppose. Perhaps if I had been reading at home and not at lunch at work I wouldn’t have had the same off-putting reaction. Not that anyone could easily read my Kindle screen or would, it just wasn’t something I wanted to read while at work. Does that make sense?

        I guess I am conflicted about not liking the book and feeling like I am somehow being ‘phobic’ about it when it is perfectly valid to not like a thing. But I feel guilty about my reaction since I am decidedly hetero and male. I have zero issue with there being that kind of representation in media. I’m not mad at the author and think the parts of the story I did enjoy were terrifically well written.

        • Thanks for elaborating. I don’t think it’s weird at all to have trouble with that stuff as long as you acknowledge you should probably try to improve those instincts. I’ve never read anything using alternative pronouns but I can definitely see it being an adjustment for me and probably making me a bit frustrated – and I am an enthusiastic supporter of people choosing their own pronouns.

        • Thank you for taking the time to elaborate. It sounds like a complicated introduction to alternative pronouns, and I am all for people choosing their own pronouns.

  6. Parting the Waters and the two followups by Taylor Branch and the two followup books are awesome.

    They focus on MLK’s part of the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s, so it’s not a comprehensive history. But it digs into all of the tactical, pragmatic, strategic thinking and planning that went into the movement — it’s a great corrective of the modern myth that it was a bunch of people singing and holding hands who made segregation miraculously disappear.

    The movement was raising money and making sandwiches and plotting PR strategies, teaching talking points and soothing worried parents, all of the things behind the scenes that kept the struggle going forward in the face of chronic apathy and defeatism.

    The three books together are something like 1500 pages, so it may be a lot to bite off, but reading at least the first book gives a great sense of what can be accomplished in the face of terrible odds when people keep working.

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