Verso authors pick their favorite books of the year
Verso authors choose the books that stuck with them this year. From Australian Aboriginal political economy to poetry from Layli Long Soldier to Robert Graves' autobiography, Verso authors share their favorite books of 2018.
All our books are 50% off until January 1 as part of our end-of-year sale! See full details here, as well as further reading lists and our End of Year Highlights.
Good-Bye to All That: An Autobiography by Robert Graves (Vintage, 1958)
The book I've enjoyed most this year is Robert Graves' Goodbye to all That, first published in 1929. It is Graves' autobiography, in which he describes his experiences in the trenches in northern France during 1915 - 1917. I began it in the wake of the commemoration of the Armistice in November, and during the run-up to the vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal. I was gripped by Graves' detailed description of trench warfare; his honesty about how traumatised he became; his understated grief at the loss of so many friends; and his shattering account of how when he returned to London, nobody understood what he had been through. It made me think about how my generation has taken peace in Europe for granted, and how foolish we are to do so.
–Teresa Thornhill, author of Hara Hotel: A Tale of Syrian Refugees in Greece
The Hole by José Revueltas, translated by Amanda Hopkinson and Sophie Hughes (New Directions, 2018)
One of the books that made the strongest impression on me in 2018 was a new translation of José Revueltas’s novella The Hole, a nightmarish prison story written while the author was himself in jail for his role in Mexico’s 1968 protest movements. Another work of fiction I read this year that left a mark was Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, which powerfully transposes Antigone into the contemporary world, following the fates of three British Muslim siblings in the long shadow of the War on Terror.
– Tony Wood, author of Russia Without Putin: Money, Power and the Myths of the New Cold War
Dark Emu: Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture by Bruce Pascoe (Scribe, 2018)
One of the most wonderful books I read this year was Dark Emu, an engaging and accessible examination of the Australian Aboriginal political economy and society prior to colonisation. Aboriginal people are the world's oldest living culture, and they mastered a harsh and mercurial environment in order to become so. They were skilled farmers, builders and hunters, as well as clever engineers. They made use of fire, water and land in impressive ways. Pascoe's exploration - drawing on an array of primary sources - sits in sharp contrast to the traditional education about Aboriginal Australia that many children are exposed to in our society. It's full of fascinating insights, as well being a powerful call to action in world in which we urgently need to find better ways to manage our natural resources. Pascoe's work suggests that ancient knowledge may well be just as powerful as more modern discoveries.
–Lizzie O'Shea, author of Future Histories: What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine, and the Paris Commune Teach Us about Digital Technology (coming out May 2019)
Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers her Superpower by Brittney Cooper (St. Martin's Press, 2018)
Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly (Atria Books, 2018)
Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister (Simon & Schuster, 2018)
My favorite trio of books this year dealt with the political power of women’s rage: Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers her Superpower by Brittney Cooper, Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly and Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister. These books have personally inspired me as an enraged, Asian-American woman moving back to live in Trump’s United States after years of living in Asia. They have helped me understand how much I -- like so many other women -- have been conditioned to suppress my anger for most of my life. It has been extremely gratifying to see these books all being published at the same time that women’s collective anger is beginning to transform the world’s most powerful authoritarian state, China, and other parts of the world. Solidarity!
–Leta Hong Fincher, author of Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China
Where We Go from Here: Two Years in the Resistance by Bernie Sanders (Thomas Dunne Books, 2018)
Bernie Sanders’s new book Where We Go from Here just came out and I am really looking forward to reading it. I was on staff in the US Senate Budget Committee during some of the time the book covers. My very first week, I got to accompany him on a tour of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia when he was trying to convince these states’ Senators not to vote for the GOP health care bill(s). No one saw Trump coming, but instead of demonizing Trump voters, Bernie reached out to them. We may have lost the tax fight, but we did help to prevent the Republicans from throwing tens of millions of people off their health care. I’m very proud of that work. Run Bernie Run!
–Heather Gautney, author of Crashing the Party: From the Bernie Sanders Campaign to a Progressive Movement
Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (City Lights Publishers, 2018)
In these times we need historians more than ever, and Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz has written a masterpiece that fuses her voluminous work on the struggle of indigenous people with one of the critical political issues of the day: the Second Amendment. Recalling Gerald Horne’s work on the politics of slavery in the Revolutionary War Era, Dunbar-Ortiz locates the fixation on gun rights in the American settler/colonist’s desire to expropriate indigenous people from their land and police and recapture escaped Afro-descendent slaves. Subsequent chapters examine our current era of Mass Shootings and White Nationalist Militias. This book is an eloquent, much-needed argument that to finally tame gun violence in America, we must acknowledge the deep connections of the “Right To Bear Arms” to White Supremacy.
–Ed Morales, author of Latinx: The New Force in American Politics and Culture
WHEREAS: Poems by Layli Long Soldier (Graywolf Press, 2017)
For Indigenous peoples, WHEREAS is more than a conjunction. It is legalese that has connected countless clauses and promises of hundreds of treaties and agreements made between Indigenous nations and the United States, from promises of peace and goodwill to a formal, yet hollow, apology to Native People buried deep within the 2010 defense spending bill. The perpetrators of genocide have betrayed their own language by weaponizing it as a tool for dispossession and by vacating meaning from words. In WHEREAS, Layli Long Soldier, through prose poems and narrative, writes clever resolutions, statements, and disclaimers to invert the officious and treacherous language of the colonizers. By doing so, she gives flesh to words by mapping her own nation’s history and survival, as a mother and a Lakota woman.
–Nick Estes, author of Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance (coming out February 2019)
Spiritual Citizenship: Transnational Pathways from Black Power to Ifá in Trinidad by N. Fadeke Castor (Duke University Press, 2017)
One of the most eye-opening books I read this year is N. Fadeke Castor's Spiritual Citizenship: Transnational Pathways from Black Power to Ifá in Trinidad. Based on twenty years of ethnographic research and intimate participation, Castor shows how political projects of black liberation in the 1970s inspired the emergence of new transnational spiritual practices and ritual that span the Caribbean, Yorubaland, and the wider African diaspora. Her work suggests new kinds of liberatory work in which, as she puts it in a forthcoming project, "Black Spirits Matter." (http://nfadekecastor.com)
–Mimi Sheller, author of Mobility Justice: The Politics of Movement in an Age of Extremes
As Black As Resistance: Finding the Conditions for Liberation by Zoé Samudzi and William C. Anderson (AK Press, 2018)
While researching my book on John Berger I immersed myself in the European socialist tradition, especially the generation of Walter Benjamin, Victor Serge, Bertolt Brecht and others. As I wrote, one elephant in my writing room was the contemporary American situation and its long history and prehistory of injustice, as well as the counter-narrative of struggle and pushback. In this context I found Zoé Samudzi and William C. Anderson’s amazing book, As Black As Resistance: Finding the Conditions for Liberation (AK Press, 2018), to be a godsend. Anderson and Samudzi argue persuasively that the black radical tradition offers the best model and path forward for the American left. What’s more, they have together found a voice that is at once inspiring and grounded, uncompromising and yet generous. With it they ask essential questions, calling on their readers to embrace a “collective courage” still waiting to be fully conjured.
–Joshua Sperling, author of A Writer of Our Time: The Life and Work of John Berger
Vernon Subutex by Virgine Despentes, translated from the French by Frank Wynne (MacLehose Press, 2018)
I like to read novels that negotiate the biographical trajectories of their staff, their neurosis, fears and failures, and at the same time sociologically underline their imaginations and draw a moral painting of society under the hand. Therefore I can hardly wait to read, finally, the third part of Virgine Despentes trilogy "The Life of Vernon Subutex". Starting from the main character Vernon Subutex, a former record handler who becomes homeless, Despentes describes in the first two parts a cultural milieu that is shimmering, hateful and desperate. Their perspective of social ascent is broken. In the novel one does not learn anything about the milieus of the yellow vests, but one understands why France is in a state of emergency. The first two books may be dark, but they are also quite funny and literally rock'n'roll.
–Oliver Nachtwey, author of Germany’s Hidden Crisis: Social Decline in the Heart of Europe
The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine by Ben Ehrenreich (Penguin Random House, 2017)
Ben Ehrenreich lived for three years with the Palestinian people in the West Bank and told their story as his own. He suffered alongside his hosts, He has written a beautiful book about hardship, cruelty, inhumanity. To read The Way to the Spring is not only to share daily life under Israeli occupation, it is to walk with the Palestinian people in the quest for their land.
–Elaine Mokhtefi, author of Algiers, Third World Capital: Freedom Fighters, Revolutionaries, Black Panthers