Nonfiction November: Books for Leftists

nonfiction november 2020

Books for Leftists

The prompt for week 3 of Nonfiction November is “Be the Expert” (hosted by Rennie of What’s Nonfiction). I thought it would be timely to talk about books for leftists. Let’s use the word “expert” more like the word “enthusiast”, because I’m always learning and listening and I still have a lot of theory to read up on.

Obviously this would include books by Dr. Angela Davis (especially Are Prisons Obsolete? and Freedom Is a Constant Struggle). I see her books all over social media, so I’d like to highlight some other books that center leftist ideals—including anarchist principles of non-coercion, voluntary association, and mutual aid. These books have made a huge impact on me, just as much as Dr. Davis’s work has.

graeber democracy projectAnything and everything by anthropologist David Graeber, who we recently suddenly lost, is a must-read. Graeber’s Twitter bio says, “I see anarchism as something you do, not an identity” and I love that so much, I try to keep it at the forefront of my mind. Am I living out my ideals? If not, how can I change that? I started with his book The Democracy Project, then read a collection of essays called Revolutions in Reverse, then The Utopia of Rules, and currently I’m participating in SrslyWrong‘s reading group of Debt: The First 5,000 Years. I’m always blown away by his hope, optimism, and ideas for a kind, compassionate world. Best of all, Graeber, who was influential in the Occupy Wall Street movement, gives examples from his own experience of putting these ideals in action. I’ve since been working on reading all of his backlist.

pandemic solidarityA new title from Colectiva Sembrar, Pandemic Solidarity, gathered “firsthand experiences from around the world of people creating their own narratives of solidarity and mutual aid in the time of the global crisis of Covid-19.” I love this collection because it highlights the needs and efforts of so many different and intersecting groups of people, and it’s not US-centric. The chapter about disability activism in South Korea was especially powerful. South Korea has been hailed as a pandemic success story, but readers are reminded that we must always consider the question “at whose expense?” and not leave the vulnerable behind. Reading about all of the successful mutual aid efforts and responses to the pandemic was inspiring and useful; these frameworks that can be adapted and applied in any crisis.

raising free peopleAnother new title, Raising Free People: Unschooling as Liberation and Healing Work by Akilah S. Richards, uses the philosophies of unschooling and deschooling to encourage autonomy and healthier cultures by critiquing and, if needed, unlearning the things we pass on to children. Richards fills a gap by centering BIPOC perspectives in a space that tends to be very, very white. This is less of a how-to book and more of a what/why kind of book. Its casual, warm tone makes it highly readable and pretty darn inspiring. A couple of my favorite quotes from the book:

“This singular focus on the best way to educate our daughters billowed out into liberation work, a practice of acknowledging and pivoting away from oppressive, control-centered relationships among people of any age over to something that centered consent, community, and lifelong learning.”

“We can’t change what we won’t examine; we can’t break free if we still taint our freedom waters with coercive relationships among the people we live with and influence most.”

The books I’ve highlighted here are some of my favorites, but I have so many more leftist books I could talk about! If you’re already involved in activism and/or community projects, by the way, Dean Spade’s new book Mutual Aid is a must-read. (I’ll be reviewing it soon.) I also have a much larger list of Books for Leftists over on Bookshop if you want more suggestions; it includes both nonfiction and fiction titles. I’ve read a lot of the books on that list, and the others are books on my TBR that have been recommended by like-minded folks whose taste in books I trust. (There’s even a bit of fiction on there!)