The Best Books We Read in 2018

From literary fiction to graphic novels, we love to read at Duke University Press! In this post, our staff members share their favorite reads from the past year. We hope you enjoy their suggestions, and maybe find a few gift ideas for the holiday season.

Akwaeke_EmeziElizabeth Ault, Acquisitions Editor, recommends two books this year: “The best book I read in 2018 is definitely Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, the story of an Igbo-Tamil person whose bodymind is host to several ancient spirits/gods. It’s a stunning, poetic exploration of Igbo cosmologies, as well as of migration, gender, and dis/ability. The multiple voices in the book are brilliantly realized and distinctive, until they aren’t. I can’t wait to read it again.”

Alexander_MastersLiz Beasley, Managing Editor, recommends a biographical detective story: “I loved A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in a Skip by Alexander Masters. When Masters finds a large collection of diaries in a dumpster, a very slow (five-year) chase ensues as he tries to find their author. At turns fascinating, dull, and suspenseful, and full of charming Britishisms, this memoir/detective story is a delight. Spoiler alert: illustrations and photographs are included, so avoid the temptation to flip through the pages for clues!”

Jordy_RosenbergCourtney Berger, Executive Editor, recommends a debut LGBTQ-themed novel: “I tore through Jordy Rosenberg’s Confessions of the Fox during my summer vacation. A salty and smart retelling of the life of Jack Sheppard as a trans man, Rosenberg shows us an 18th-century London in the throes of imperial expansion and where the violences of racism, gender normativity, and class hierarchy are being countered by resistance. The book is framed by the story of Dr. Voth, whose discovery and annotation of Sheppard’s narrative likewise reveals the brutally extractive world of the corporate university as well as ongoing defiance to it. Great read for folks who love fiction and scholarly footnotes!”

Claudia_RankineJocelyn Dawson, Journals Marketing and Sales Manager, recommends the subject of a recent DUP staff book discussion: “The Press’s Equity and Inclusion group selected Citizen by Claudia Rankine for discussion in November. This beautifully written book intersperses art, poetry, and short essays to create a chilling portrait of racial aggression in the US. The book topped ‘best of the year’ lists for 2014 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry and the L.A. Times Book Prize, among many other awards.”

Alexandra_RowlandJessica Malitoris, an intern in Books Marketing, recommends a fantasy novel: “Alexandra Rowland’s A Conspiracy of Truths is a fantastic tale about the power of stories, for good or ill. Chant, a traveling storyteller, finds himself on trial in a strange country for witchcraft. His desperate attempts to talk his way out of execution have repercussions not just for himself but for the entire country. Rowland’s writing—forceful, full of personality, and yet delicate—is a joy to read. I heartily recommend this book to any lovers of fantasy and perhaps even those who might not normally enjoy the genre.”

Patrick_NathanMichael McCullough, Books Marketing and Sales Senior Manager, recommends three LGBTQ-themed books this year: “Patrick Nathan’s Some Hell is the sad and powerful story of how a Minnesota family comes apart in the wake of a suicide. The focus is on the gay teenaged son and the mother, who are both—separately and in secret—reading through and protecting each other from the deceased father’s obsessive journals/notebooks, trying to understand his life and figure out how to keep going. It is hard to believe that this is a first novel, given the pinpoint control and maturity Nathan displays.

Andrew_Sean_Greer“On a much lighter note, I also read Less, Andrew Sean Greer’s hilarious novel about a minor gay novelist who puts together a deranged book tour to avoid his ex-boyfriend’s wedding. In a similar vein, My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley (one of my favorite writers) also features a middle-aged gay man who decides to flee San Francisco to escape the consequences of a failed relationship. McCauley’s three main characters are so funny, so appealing, so human, and so beleaguered by life that I was praying for a happy ending.”

Laurent_BinetChris Robinson, Copywriter in Books Marketing, recommends a book of literary fiction: “The Seventh Function of Language by Laurent Binet is part detective caper, part alternative history, and a completely hilarious send-up of critical theory. Following the quest for Roman Jakobson’s mythical ‘seventh function of language’—which gives its possessor the ability to dictate the actions of other—readers learn the ‘real’ reason Althusser killed his wife, the motivations of the driver of the laundry truck that killed Barthes, Kristeva’s spycraft, a secret debate society, and a surprise revelation about Barack Obama. Anyone who has read even a bit of French theory should love this book.”

Emil_FerrisDan Ruccia, Designer in Journals Marketing, recommends a debut graphic novel: “My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris is a totally engrossing graphic novel about childhood, fitting in, Chicago in the late 1960s, monsters of various sorts, a mysterious murder, and so much more. The artwork is so vibrant and active, down to the lovingly recreated monster comic book covers that appear throughout. Can’t wait for the second volume!”

Celeste_NgLaura Sell, Publicity and Advertising Manager in Books Marketing, recommends a 2017 novel: “My favorite read of 2018 was Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. It’s the story of the apparently perfect Richardson family who live in apparently perfect Shaker Heights. Their perfect world is shattered when their close friends adopt a Chinese-American baby. The compelling story and carefully written characters bring up some uncomfortable truths for ‘liberal’ white readers without being overly preachy. I couldn’t put it down and finished it in a day and a half!”

Gerard_ReveMatt Tauch, Book Designer, recommends The Evenings by Gerard Reve: “I wasn’t aware of this author or his ‘Dutch postwar masterpiece’ before chancing upon a review in the Guardian some time ago. It was one quote from that review—‘I take cards out of a file. Once I have taken them out, I put them back in again.’—that made me think ‘this sounds perfect.’ And, for me, it nearly was. Dry, dark (morose, occasionally to the point of macabre), and quietly hilarious, The Evenings follows our man Frits through ten droll days and damp Amsterdam nights leading up to New Year’s Eve 1946, his persistent neuroses forever in tow (others’ creeping baldness is of particular concern). But books aren’t all about content, right? Please consider also that this is the first and only English translation, and Pushkin has packaged it beautifully: wrapped in a gorgeously illustrated uncoated jacket and tucked in between the most precious light pink end papers.”

Oyinkan_BraithwaiteErica Woods Tucker, Production Coordinator, recommends My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite: “This is such a smart, funny book that takes on themes of feminism while taking you through a wild romp into the lives of two sisters, one of whom obviously has the better end of the relationship. It’s a short book, so you can read it in one sitting. But since it’s short, I can’t give much away; but I will say, ‘This isn’t your average serial killer book.’ So if you like mystery-thrillers that make you think and laugh a bit, this one is for you.”

Thanks to our staff for another year of great reads and recommendations! We look forward to expanding our collective literary minds in 2019.

Call for Proposals: South Atlantic Quarterly

saq_117_4_cover1The South Atlantic Quarterly is accepting proposals for thematic special issues through January 31, 2019. Themes should be in line with those of journal issues published in recent years, including critical race studies, feminist and queer theory, analyses of contemporary capital and labor, social and liberation movements, critical theory, and environmental humanities. Funds are available to translate original essays not written in English.

Special issue editors are responsible for soliciting essays, working with authors, editing texts, and assuring that deadlines and word counts are met.

saq_117_3_coverProposals should include a description of the concept or theme that organizes the issue (roughly 200 words) plus names of potential authors with very brief bios. Please indicate whether authors have already been contacted. Please propose, too, a date by which the complete, edited collection can feasibly be submitted.

Issues are composed of 70,000 words total. This is often configured as eight 8,000 word essays plus an introduction, but editors are free to configure the number and length of essays differently.

Please send proposals to saq@dukeupress.edu.

New Books in December

Check out our December new releases!

978-1-4780-0292-5.jpgColin Milburn’s Respawn examines the relationships between video games, hackers, and science fiction, showing how games provide models of social and political engagement, critique, and resistance while offering a vital space for players and hacktivists to challenge centralized power and experiment with alternative futures.

Jack Halberstam’s classic Female Masculinity has been called “a landmark study” (Feminist Theory) and a “pioneering document” (Gay and Lesbian Times) and has become one of our bestselling texts of all time. We are pleased to offer a new twentieth anniversary edition of the book, which features a new preface by the author.

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In Can Politics Be Thought?—published in French in 1985 and appearing here in English for the first time—Alain Badiou offers his most forceful and systematic analysis of the crisis of Marxism in which he argues for the continuation of Marxist politics.

Containing over one hundred selections—many of which appear in English for the first time—this extensively revised and expanded second edition of the bestselling The Brazil Reader, edited by James Green, Victoria Langland, and Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, presents the lived experience of Brazilians from all social and economic classes, racial backgrounds, genders, and political perspectives over the past half-millennia.

Jessica A. Krug’s Fugitive Modernities traces the history and meaning of Kisama—a seventeenth-century fugitive slave community located in present-day Angola—by showing how it operated as a inspirational global symbol of resistance for fugitives on both sides of the Atlantic.

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Megan H. Glick’s Infrahumanisms considers how twentieth-century conversations surrounding nonhuman life have impacted a broad range of attitudes toward forms of human difference such as race, sexuality, and health, showing how efforts to define a universal humanity create the means with which to reinforce various forms of social inequality.

Damon R. Young’s Making Sex Public tracks the emergence of new forms of sexuality in French and American cinema from the 1950s to the present, showing how cinema transformed narratives of sexuality and how women and queers were both agents and objects of that transformation.

Prompting a reevaluation of canonical understandings of twentieth century art history, Mapping Modernisms, edited by Elizabeth Harney and Ruth Phillips, provides an analysis of how indigenous artists and art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas became recognized as modern.

The contributors to Passages and Afterworlds, edited by Maarit Forde and Yanique Hume, explore death and mortuary rituals across the Caribbean, showing how racial, cultural and class differences have been deployed in ritual practice and how such rituals have been governed in the colonial and postcolonial Caribbean.

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The contributors to Sound Objects, an ambitious and wide-ranging collection edited by James Steintrager and Rey Chow, explore sound as an object, sound studies as a discipline, and the limits of sonic objectivity.

In Worldmaking, Dorinne Kondo draws on critical ethnographic work and over twenty years of experience as a dramaturge and playwright to theorize how racialized labor, aesthetics, affect, genre, and social inequity operate in contemporary theater.

In a bold challenge to conventional understandings of Hawai‘i’s admission as a U.S. state. Dean Saranillio’s Unsustainable Empire tracks the disparate stories different groups tell about Hawaiian statehood by returning to historical flashpoints ranging from the turn of the century until shortly after 1959.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for Subject Matters, our e-mail newsletter, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

Flash Sale: Save 50% for Two Days Only

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We’re excited to announce a 50% off flash sale on all in-stock books and journal issues. Now’s the time to pick up those titles you couldn’t fit in your suitcase at recent fall meetings or get some great gifts. But hurry, this sale lasts two days only, December 3 and 4. Hurry to our website now and use coupon code FLASH18 to save.

Here’s the usual fine print: The discount does not apply to apparel, journals subscriptions, or society memberships. You can’t order out-of-stock or not yet published titles at the discount. And you can’t combine multiple orders to maximize the discount. Regular shipping applies and all sales are final.

If you have any difficulty ordering via our website, you can call our customer service department at 888-651-0122 during regular business hours (8-5 Eastern Time). Domestic orders placed during the sale will reach recipients by Christmas, but we cannot guarantee holiday delivery for international orders.

The two-day only sale ends Tuesday, December 4 at 11:59 Eastern Time. Start shopping now!

Author Events in December

978-1-4780-0081-5Several of our authors will be on the road this month. Here’s your chance to get your signed copy, which would make a great gift!

December 1: Bianca Williams will have a reading and discussion of her book The Pursuit of Happiness at Cafe con Libros.
5:00pm, 724 Prospect Pl., Brooklyn, NY 11216

December 3: See Vexy Thing author Imani Perry in conversation with Simone White at The Graduate Center.
6:30pm, 365 Fifth Avenue, 9100: Skylight Room, New York, NY 10016

December 4: The Potter’s House is hosting a book signing 978-1-4780-0153-9with author John Lindsay-Poland for his new book Plan Colombia.
6:30pm,  1658 Columbia Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20009

December 4: The Getty Center will host a discussion with South of Pico author Kellie Jones on the Rise of Performance Art in the 1970s.
7:30pm, 1200 Getty Center Dr., Los AngelesCA 90049

December 6: How Would You Like to Pay? author Bill Maurer will speak at the big.bright.minds. 2018 conference.
8:30am, Filene Research Institute, 1010 E. Washington Ave., Suite 306, Madison, WI 53703

December 6: Sara Ahmed, author of Living a Feminist Life, and several other books, lectures on Complaint as Diversity Work at Central European University in Budapest. Her next book, What’s the Use?, will be out in late 2019.
6:00pm Nador u. 9, Monument Building, Budapest Hungary

December 7: Duke University’s Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities, & History of Medicine  will host a lecture by Comfort Measures Only author Rafael Campo.
12:00pm, 2301 Erwin Road, Durham, NC 27705

December 7: Marisol de la Cadena and Mario Blaser will participate in a symposium on their collection A World of Many Worlds at Duke University’s Rubenstein Library.
9:00am, 411 Chapel Dr., Durham, NC 27705

Laughing at the DevilDecember 9: Amy Laura Hall will give a lecture at St. David’s Episcopal Church on her book Laughing at the Devil.
10:45am, 301 E 8th Street, Austin, TX 78701

December 8: See Allan deSouza talk about his new book How Art Can Be Thought at the Asia Society.
2:00pm, 1370 Southmore Blvd, Houston, TX 77004

December 10: Is It Still Good to Ya? author Robert Christgau will discuss his book in-conversation with Eric Lott at The Graduate Center.
6:30pm, 365 Fifth Avenue, 9100: Skylight Room, New York, NY 10016

December 10: City Lights Booksellers will host a book discussion with Dana Frank and Plan Colombia author John Lindsay-Poland.
7:00pm, 261 Columbus Avenue at Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

December 14: BookWoman will host a book talk with Amy Laura Hall, author of Laughing at the Devil.
7:00pm, 5501 N Lamar Blvd, Ste A105, Austin, Texas 78751

DukeUniversityPress_JamesBaldwin_LittleManDecember 15: Actor and childhood literacy advocate LeVar Burton joins with Aisha Karefa-Smart, editor Nicholas Boggs, Judith Thurman and Allison Criner Brown in a discussion of James Baldwin’s work, life, and the timeliness of the re-release of his children’s book Little Man, Little Man at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. Children’s and family events are also scheduled.
4:30pm, 1400 Constitution Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20560

December 18: John Lindsay-Poland will celebrate his new book Plan Colombia at Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists.
7:00pm, 1924 Cedar St, Berkeley, CA 94709

Hope you can make it to one of these great events.

 

The Authoritarian Personality

The most recent issue of South Atlantic Quarterly, “The Authoritarian Personality,” edited by Robyn Marasco, is now available.SAQ_new_pr

In response to the recent rise of neo-fascist movements around the world, the intensification of racist violence against black and brown people, the reactionary backlash against feminism, and the crisis of neoliberal capitalism, contributors to this special issue of SAQ offer a reappraisal of The Authoritarian Personality (1950) that yields fresh insights and new resources for contemporary critique.

While arguably the first major contribution to the field of political psychology, the book by Theodor W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel J. Levinson, and R. Nevitt Sanford has been relegated to the margins of Frankfurt School critical theory, even as an industry of scholarship has formed around Adorno’s philosophical and cultural criticism. By focusing on The Authoritarian Personality and its relevance for contemporary politics, the contributors aim to correct this imbalance and assess the empirical project in early critical theory, including its integration of political sociology and social psychology.

Browse the table-of-contents and read the introduction, made freely available.

Three New Journal Partnerships for 2019

In 2019, Duke University Press will begin publishing three journals: Critical Times: Interventions in Global Critical Theory, Prism: Theory and Modern Chinese Literature, and the Illinois Journal of Mathematics. Read on to learn more about these new journal partnerships.

CaptureCritical Times: Interventions in Global Critical Theory is an open-access, online journal established by the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs with the aim of foregrounding the global reach and form of contemporary critical theory. Its content is currently hosted here and will soon move to our website. Critical Times reflects on and facilitates forms of transnational solidarity that draw upon critical theory and political practice. It seeks to redress missed opportunities for critical dialogue between the global South and global North and to generate contacts across the current divisions of knowledge and languages in the South and across the peripheries. The journal publishes essays, interviews, dialogues, dispatches, visual art, and various other platforms for critical reflection that engage with social and political theory, literature, philosophy, art criticism, and other fields. It also publishes texts that shed light on contemporary practices of authoritarian and neo-fascist politics, nativist and atavistic cultural formations, economic exclusion, and forms of life where different, emancipatory social worlds might be imagined and articulated. The journal’s editors are Anuj Bhuwania, Judith Butler, Robin Celikates (Commissioning Editor), Rodrigo De La Fabián, Samera Esmeir (Commissioning Editor), Nadia Yala Kisukidi, Ramsey McGlazer, Juan Obarrio (Commissioning Editor), and Katharine Wallerstein.

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Prism: Theory and Modern Chinese Literature presents cutting-edge research on modern literary production, dissemination, and reception in China and beyond. It also publishes works that study the shaping influence of traditional literature and culture on modern and contemporary China. Prism actively promotes scholarly investigations from interdisciplinary and cross-cultural perspectives, and it encourages integration of theoretical inquiry with empirical research. The journal strives to foster in-depth dialogues between Western and Chinese literary theories that illuminate both the unique features of each interlocutor and their shared insights into issues of universal interest. Prism is edited by Zong-qi Cai and Yunte Huang and is a new incarnation of Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese (JMLC), founded in 1987 by the Centre for Humanities Research of Lingnan University.

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Founded in 1957, the Illinois Journal of Mathematics (IJM) featured in its inaugural volume the papers of many of the world’s leading mathematicians. Since then, IJM has published many influential papers, including the proof of the Four Color Conjecture, and continues to publish original research articles in all areas of mathematics. The quarterly journal is edited by Steven Bradlow and sponsored by the Department of Mathematics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The editorial board comprises a mix of preeminent mathematicians from within its host department and across the mathematical research establishment. Learn more about this publishing partnership.

Check dukeupress.edu/journals for these journals, coming soon.

American Academy of Religion, 2018

Before the Thanksgiving holiday, we enjoyed catching up with authors and editors and selling books and journals at the 2018 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Denver.

Spiritual CitizenshipWe were thrilled to feature two recent award-winning titles in the booth: Spiritual Citizenship by N. Fadeke Castor, which won the 2018 Clifford Geertz Prize from the Society for the Anthropology of Religion; and Everyday Conversions by Attiya Ahmad, which won the 2018 Association for Middle East Women’s Studies (AMEWS) Book Award.

Last year’s winner of the CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography, Lauren Pond, displayed some of her photographs during the conference, and gave an artist’s talk about her book, Test of Faith.

Monique Moultrie, author of Passionate and Pious, and Laura Grillo, author of An Intimate Rebuke, both stopped by the booth to say hello.

If you weren’t able to attend the conference, or if your luggage was too heavy for more great books, you can still save 30% on all our great religion titles on our website using coupon code AAR18, through the end of the year.

Give the Gift of Books

It’s Black Friday, but instead of heading to the mall, why don’t you simplify your life by giving books to everyone on your shopping list? We suggest a few great gift books below. They’re available for 30% off on our website with coupon code SAVE30, or head to your local independent bookstore tomorrow and #shoplocal on Small Business Saturday instead!

Baldwin_REV_jacket_frontWant to introduce a child in your life to James Baldwin? Pick up a copy of his only children’s book, Little Man, Little Man. Originally published in 1976 and quickly out of print, we have brought the book back in a beautiful new edition. School Library Journal calls it “a new classic.” Publishers Weekly says, “Through luminous prose and fine observation, readers come to care deeply about TJ and his friends, and they’ll wish their story didn’t end so soon.” Adults will also enjoy the story and the lovely illustrations by French watercolorist Yoran Cazac. Baldwin fans may also want to check out Me and My House: James Baldwin’s Last Decade in France by Magdalena J. Zaborowska. This richly illustrated book takes readers into Baldwin’s home and uses the space as a lens through which to expand his biography and explore the politics and poetics of blackness, queerness, and domesticity in his complex and underappreciated later works.

We have a number of suggestions for the poetry lovers in Gunslinger-50your life. Dionne Brand’s The Blue Clerk: Ars Poetica in 59 Versos will appeal to readers of Derek Walcott and Claudia Rankine. Through these essay poems, Brand explores memory, language, culture, and time while intimately interrogating the act and difficulty of writing, the relationship between the poet and the world, and the link between author and art. We also recommend Comfort Measures Only, a collection of selected poems by physician Rafael Campo. A&U Magazine calls it “a powerful collection of this masterful poet’s work,” and the Bay Area Reporter says, “Fans of Campo’s work will find much to savor in this treasury from a physician with his heart in all the right places.” This year we also released a special Fiftieth Anniversary Edition of Edward Dorn’s classic poem Gunslinger. In a new foreword Marjorie Perloff discusses Gunslinger‘s continued relevance to contemporary politics. This new edition also includes a critical essay by Michael Davidson and Charles Olson’s idiosyncratic “Bibliography on America for Ed Dorn,” which he wrote to provide guidance for Dorn’s study of, and writing about, the American West.

978-1-4780-0129-4If you’re interested in the history of gay and lesbian activism, check out two memoirs and a biography we put out this year. In Exile within Exiles, James N. Green examines the life of Herbert Daniel, a Brazilian activist for gay rights, feminism, and environmentalism, who fought for social justice both in Brazil and from exile in Europe from the mid-1960s until his death in 1992. Historian Martin Duberman was also an activist for LGBT rights, and his memoir The Rest of It chronicles a time in his life when he was both extremely productive in his scholarly and activist work while also suffering from depression, addiction, and other health problems. In My Butch Career, anthropologist Esther Newton tells her life story from childhood to age forty, when a lifetime of struggle against sexism and LBGT discrimination finally brought her professional success.

Got music lovers in your life? Why not give them Is It Still Good to Ya?, a collection of rock critic Robert Christgau’s best writing from his fifty-year career.  Kirkus Reviews writes, “At a moment when music criticism seems less empowered for being more fragmented, Christgau still offers an informed, authoritative perspective, self-aware regarding cultural aging and mortality, not stodgy but wry. A vital chronicler of rock’s story, several decades on.”

Someone to Talk ToTwo recent novels in translation would make great gifts for lovers of literature. Someone to Talk To is by one of China’s most respected novelists, Liu Zhenyun. Library Journal says, “”Dense with dozens of interwoven narratives of living through pre- and post-Mao China, Liu’s scathing and illuminating tome is highly recommended for internationally savvy fans of Mo Yan, Yu Hua, and Yan Lianke.” Or try a historical novel that still resonates today: Published in 1924 and widely acknowledged as a major work of twentieth-century Latin American literature, José Eustasio Rivera’s The Vortex follows the harrowing adventures of the young poet Arturo Cova and his lover Alicia as they flee Bogotá and head into the wild and woolly backcountry of Colombia. “Ironically, the environmentalist concerns he addressed are as timely as ever,” says Ilan Stavans.

We hope some of these great books will make it onto your holiday shopping list. Order by December 1 using coupon code SAVE30 and domestic orders will definitely make it to you before Christmas. Or head to your local bookstore and buy or order these great books from them.

 

 

Q&A with Melissa Gregg, author of Counterproductive

GreggHeadshotMelissa Gregg is the Principal Engineer and Research Director, Client Computing Group at Intel, and author of the new book Counterproductive: Time Management in the Knowledge Economy. In Counterproductive, Gregg explores how productivity emerged as a way of thinking about job performance and shows how a focus on productivity isolates workers from one another, erasing their collective efforts to define work limits. We’re pleased to share an interview with her about the new book.

What sparked your interest in time management and the history of productivity culture? How has your own office-job experience influenced your study?

At one level I have always been fascinated by the way that some people seem to have an effortless ability to manage even the most intense workloads with grace and composure, while others really struggle to focus. I think this became more apparent when I joined a corporate job because time has a heightened cost in a publicly listed company. There are social pressures of accountability when you aren’t “getting things done” in a matrixed team environment. Those experiences can be intense, and can create a kind of dread when it seems as though you are not keeping up to speed, precisely in the athletic sense that the book describes. This differs from what my friends in contract careers deal with, trying to maintain motivation working from home or in a café on a temporary gig that may be the last paycheck for a while. It becomes very clear that time management problems aren’t the same in all of these situations. We need a better manual for living and working in a world where collective rituals and routines—and the respite they provide—are becoming harder to practice.

How have emergent technologies, like apps, reflected—or contributed to—an uptick in our obsession with productivity?

Software systems extend what is already a pervasive cultural desire in the United States for individuals to evince a strong work ethic. The convenience of having a mobile device always with you means it’s easier to establish this intimate infrastructure for living; to fully monitor and audit your activities since so many of them are digitally mediated. Apps bring a more obvious aesthetic to the productive lifestyle, making it simple, elegant and beautiful to organize your life, in the language of User Experience design (UX). Who can resist a tool that has a more reliable memory than you! But we do lock ourselves in to a bind by using technology to regulate our use of technology, whether for work or pleasure.

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What remedies does Counterproductive offer for a productivity-obsessed culture? How can we reclaim mindfulness as a tool for ourselves rather than as a method for coping with corporate life?

An appreciation of corporate history is a critical part of the remedy, including the curious self-help genres that have been used so often by so many. This book is deeply informed by my cultural studies training, and by the principle that popular culture is an index of capitalism’s contradictions. Self-help genres can be incredibly useful in the absence of more comprehensive social and economic change, especially for minorities faced with the anonymizing social wounds of large institutions. That’s one way of understanding the role of mindfulness today. It is a salve for too much productivity striving, the constant affective labor of knowledge work. But mindfulness is only bearable if it is not a smokescreen for solipsism. It has to adhere to an idea of collective withdrawal to be political. That is the post-work future we all need to build.

The preface to your book includes a deeply moving tribute to your mother. How does the personal inform your scholarship in Counterproductive?

To a much larger extent than I had realized! There was a moment when this wider purpose of reconciling her passing first became clear to me. It was during the auto-ethnographic component of the chapter on time management manuals, specifically while contemplating the insanity of David Allen’s directive to write a “Someday/Maybe list.” It struck me then how productivity gurus succeed by promising protection from the volatility of real life, the unpredictable nature of our own and others’ mortality. One can keep extremely occupied in the effort to manage time well, but this is also a socially sanctioned way to avoid thinking about bigger existential questions.

Do you think of Counterproductive as an activist text? In what ways? What impact do you hope to have on readers?

The book is fueled by a number of irritants: the outrageously mythologized figures in the history of management studies, for example, and the whole “bias towards action” ideology that pervades certain sectors of Silicon Valley. For a long time I have been channeling rage at the inequities of a world governed by the 1%, where so many brilliant minds are drowning in mid-rank organizational email and jockeying PowerPoint files instead of fighting to save the planet. Meanwhile real estate entrepreneurs drink champagne on yachts! I want to offer a catalyst against the myopia of present day workplace heroics, which is unfinished business from my last book, Work’s Intimacy. I also think we need better management theory that calls out the privileges inherent in industrial era labor divisions, including the delegation dynamic that so differently affects workers according to race, class and gender. These biases continue to govern the experience of work today, and I see that more clearly in the corporate sector. I would dearly like for more academics and writers to take this project on. Finally, Counterproductive concludes with a manifesto of ideas that draw from the best legacies of labor activism but for a vastly different economy. I hope that it prompts readers to think differently about their relationship to work, and the motivations behind the sacrifices that it necessarily entails.  

Pick up your paperback copy of Counterproductive for 30% off using coupon code E18GREGG on our website.