What We Are Reading Today: Blockchain Chicken Farm by Xiaowei Wang

What We Are Reading Today: Blockchain Chicken Farm by Xiaowei Wang
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Updated 18 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Blockchain Chicken Farm by Xiaowei Wang

What We Are Reading Today: Blockchain Chicken Farm by Xiaowei Wang

In Blockchain Chicken Farm, technologist and writer Xiaowei Wang explores the political and social entanglements of technology in rural China.

Her discoveries force her to challenge the standard idea that rural culture and people are backward, conservative and intolerant. 

“Instead, she finds that rural China has not only adapted to rapid globalization but has actually innovated the technology we all use today,” said a review in goodreads.com. “This is a very insightful, beautifully written book about technological advances in rural China.” 

 Accompanied by humorous “Sinofuturist” recipes that frame meals as they transform under new technology, Blockchain Chicken Farm is an original and probing look into innovation, connectivity, and collaboration in the digitized rural world.

Clive Thompson said in a review for The New York Times that Wang “has written a nuanced and thought-provoking account, and it is not easy to tell, after you’re done reading it, how rural China will fare — whether its tiptoe toward prosperity and tech savviness is durable.”


What We Are Reading Today: The New World: Infinitesimal Epics

What We Are Reading Today: The New World: Infinitesimal Epics
Updated 18 September 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The New World: Infinitesimal Epics

What We Are Reading Today: The New World: Infinitesimal Epics

Author: Anthony Carelli

The New World, Anthony Carelli’s new collection of poems, is an American travelogue that unfolds in a series of darkly comic episodes, with allusions to Dante as a thread throughout. In these epics in miniature, we meet a pilgrim-poet as he awaits the arrival of his child, a would-be Columbus, on the shores of a land “disenstoried” by explorers present and past. It’s a land and a people largely lost in mindscapes and mythscapes, haunted by sketchy aspirational visions, misbegotten misremembering, and emptiness. Nonetheless, the poet steps out to the shore to sing for the child—and reader—to do what Columbus never did: “land gently. /And listen and/ listen and listen/and stay.”
From an Arizona nursing home and a grandmother’s memory of a stolen golden Schwinn in the occupied Philippines, to a tale of road-tripping west through Pennsylvania as sunrise transpires in the wrong sky, The New World opens strange spaces for us to re-see, lament, and re-sing the stories we tell.


What We Are Reading Today: Inside the Critics’ Circle by Philippa K. Chong

What We Are Reading Today: Inside the Critics’ Circle by Philippa K. Chong
Updated 16 September 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Inside the Critics’ Circle by Philippa K. Chong

What We Are Reading Today: Inside the Critics’ Circle by Philippa K. Chong

Taking readers behind the scenes in the world of fiction reviewing, Inside the Critics’ Circle explores the ways critics evaluate books despite the inherent subjectivity involved and the uncertainties of reviewing when seemingly anyone can be a reviewer. Drawing on interviews with critics from such venues as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post, Phillipa Chong delves into the complexities of the review-writing process, including the considerations, values, and cultural and personal anxieties that shape what critics do.

Chong explores how critics are paired with review assignments, why they accept these time-consuming projects, how they view their own qualifications for reviewing certain books, and the criteria they employ when making literary judgments. She discovers that while their readers are of concern to reviewers, they are especially worried about authors on the receiving end of reviews. As these are most likely peers who will be returning similar favors in the future, critics’ fears and frustrations factor into their willingness or reluctance to write negative reviews.

At a time when traditional review opportunities are dwindling, book reviewing  is being brought into question.


REVIEW: Yassin Adnan’s ‘Hot Maroc’ explores Marrakech, and the influence of the digital world on reality

REVIEW: Yassin Adnan’s ‘Hot Maroc’ explores Marrakech, and the influence of the digital world on reality
Updated 16 September 2021

REVIEW: Yassin Adnan’s ‘Hot Maroc’ explores Marrakech, and the influence of the digital world on reality

REVIEW: Yassin Adnan’s ‘Hot Maroc’ explores Marrakech, and the influence of the digital world on reality

CHICAGO: Longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2017, and published in English for the first time in July this year, Yassin Adnan’s novel “Hot Maroc” is a glimpse into Marrakech, Morocco through the eyes Rahhal Laâouina, a university student desperate both for the degree that will allow his life to match the legend he has made of himself in his mind, and to make his father proud. While this contemporary story begins with Rahhal’s journey, it is also a tale of the generations since Morocco’s independence, university life, identity politics, protests, and the Internet. When Rahhal learns that he can control certain aspects of life using the latter, he becomes obsessed.

Rahhal, named after a martyr, sees his counterparts as animals and himself as a squirrel. It helps him make sense of the city around him. From Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech, where he is studying for a degree in Arabic language and literature from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Rahhal can put aside his upbringing in the Ain itti neighborhood outside the city walls. He can join the National Union of Students in Morocco and can drown himself in a narrative that he lives in dreams but that plays out quite differently in real life. When he finds himself managing the Atlas Cubs Cyber Café, Rahhal revels in hiding behind his anonymity in the virtual world and pursuing outcomes he could never imagine in real life.

With Morocco’s rich history as a backdrop and set against a modern-day distrust among Marrakech’s residents of secret police, politicians, and each other, Adnan creates a space where a person’s identity and past can mean everything in the real world and nothing on the Internet. Online, every opinion, if it garners enough attention, matters, and Rahhal does not let opportunity pass him by. Adnan’s main character can steer the narrative to fit his liking, as long as he is careful.

Adnan introduces every character with a wit and ease, their eccentricities and most intimate desires laid out on the page. Each personality is carefully crafted to create an extraordinary stage of characters. Translated into English by Alexander E. Elinson, Adnan’s novel highlights the Red City’s modern and ancient stories, its heroes and villains, its takers and givers, creating a seamless line between its inhabitants and their city, paying homage to Marrakech and its bustling streets, resolute residents, and cyber avenues.


What We Are Reading Today: Becoming George Orwell: Life and Letters, Legend and Legacy

What We Are Reading Today: Becoming George Orwell: Life and Letters, Legend and Legacy
Updated 16 September 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Becoming George Orwell: Life and Letters, Legend and Legacy

What We Are Reading Today: Becoming George Orwell: Life and Letters, Legend and Legacy

Author: John Rodden

Is George Orwell the most influential writer who ever lived? Yes, according to John Rodden’s provocative book about the transformation of a man into a myth. Rodden does not argue that Orwell was the most distinguished man of letters of the last century, nor even the leading novelist of his generation, let alone the greatest imaginative writer of English prose fiction. Yet his influence since his death at midcentury is incomparable. No other writer has aroused so much controversy or contributed so many incessantly quoted words and phrases to our cultural lexicon, from “Big Brother” and “doublethink” to “thoughtcrime” and “Newspeak.” Becoming George Orwell is a pathbreaking tour de force that charts the astonishing passage of a litterateur into a legend.
Rodden presents the author of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four in a new light, exploring how the man and writer Orwell, born Eric Arthur Blair, came to be overshadowed by the spectral figure associated with nightmare visions of our possible futures.
Rodden opens with a discussion of the life and letters, chronicling Orwell’s eccentricities and emotional struggles, followed by an assessment of his chief literary achievements. The second half of the book examines the legend and legacy of Orwell, whom Rodden calls “England’s Prose Laureate,” looking at everything from cyberwarfare to “fake news.” The closing chapters address both Orwell’s enduring relevance to burning contemporary issues and the multiple ironies of his popular reputation, showing how he and his work have become confused with the very dreads and diseases that he fought against throughout his life.


What We Are Reading Today: A Republic of Equals: A Manifesto for a Just Society

What We Are Reading Today: A Republic of Equals: A Manifesto for a Just Society
Updated 14 September 2021

What We Are Reading Today: A Republic of Equals: A Manifesto for a Just Society

What We Are Reading Today: A Republic of Equals: A Manifesto for a Just Society

Author: Jonathan Rothwell

Political equality is the most basic tenet of democracy. Yet in America and other democratic nations, those with political power have special access to markets and public services. A Republic of Equals traces the massive income inequality observed in the US and other rich democracies to politicized markets and avoidable gaps in opportunity—and explains why they are the root cause of what ails democracy today.
In this provocative book, economist Jonathan Rothwell draws on the latest empirical evidence from across the social sciences to demonstrate how rich democracies have allowed racial politics and the interests of those at the top to subordinate justice. He looks at the rise of nationalism in Europe and the US, revealing how this trend overlaps with racial prejudice and is related to mounting frustration with a political status quo that thrives on income inequality and inefficient markets. But economic differences are by no means inevitable. Differences in group status by race and ethnicity are dynamic.
and have reversed themselves across continents and within countries. Inequalities persist between races in the US because Black Americans are denied equal access to markets and public services.