Welcome to the club

I sent my first post to paid subscribers only this morning. Since it’s a new thing, I wanted to give everyone on the list a chance to read it. As you can see, it’s shorter and more intimate than a regular Long Version, with inside detail about my work and what I’m thinking and reading.

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Hello, full subscribers! If you’re getting this email it means you’ve taken the leap to supporting The Long Version. I can’t express how grateful I am to each of you for making this work possible.

Much of what I’ve been covering in this newsletter has reared its head in some way or another in the past few days: More white-supremacist flexing and several more planned terrorist attacks. Political tumult in Puerto Rico. A bizarre but tacit admission from Trump that he’s a liar, knows climate change is real … and wants to profit off it.

I’ll be hitting those and more again soon. In the meantime, a couple short thoughts on some things I’ve been reading, and an update:

What I’m reading (nonfiction)

I’m sure most of you have heard of the New York Times Magazine’s new 1619 edition, but haven’t had time to read it. Well, go read it. Nikole Hannah-Jones captained this look at the foundational role that slavery, segregation, and the black experience in America have played in shaping the nation, and it’s changing the conversation already.

I would start with Hannah-Jones’ incredible essay, which argues, rightly, of Black America: “It is we who have been the perfecters of this democracy.”

Also check out Matthew Desmond’s work on the plantation origins of American capitalism. And don’t miss my friend Jamelle Bouie’s terrific (dare I say almost Long Versiony?) essay connecting today’s Republican reactionary extremism to the racist nineteenth-century planter-politicians led by John C. Calhoun.

It’s all great, so make the time.

What I’m reading (fiction)

A few months ago, in the sorrowful aftermath of Game of Thrones/HBO’s dud ending, I came across a thread about the best SciFi/fantasy novels that hadn’t been adapted (or ruined) yet for film or TV. One of the suggestions was Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels. And, people, they were right.

Set in a distant future, where humans have developed our way out of scarcity—and apparently homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, nationalism, and squeamishness about drug use, among other things—it’s clever, ironic, unexpected, deep, and fun.

I blew through the first book, Consider Phlebas. People said I could skip the space opera send-up, and they were probably right, but if you’re a completist like me it’s the literal place to start, and picks up about halfway through.

I really loved the next one, The Player of Games. It concerns the best human board game player in the universe who, just as he’s getting bored of the whole enterprise, gets called on to intervene in a distant … well, just read it. Among other things that drove directly up my alley was this fantastic description of the primitive organizational system called empire, and the conditions necessary to perpetuate it:

“The one in the middle is the dominant sex.”

Gurgeh had to think about this. “The what?” he said.

“The dominant sex,” Worthil repeated. “Empires are synonymous with centralized—if occasionally schismatized—hierarchical power structures in which influence is restricted to an economically privileged class retaining its advantages through—usually—a judicious use of oppression and skilled manipulation of both the society’s information dissemination systems and its lesser—as a rule nominally independent—power systems. In short, it’s all about dominance.”

I can’t tell you how happy that paragraph made me.

Oh and, the picture of the “club” above is an artist’s rendering from Player. I’m on the next book now, Use of Weapons. Will keep you posted.

Gangsters of Capitalism update

As for my book, I’m experimenting with a big rewrite of some early chapters right now, trying to fix my problems with temporality and square it with my general need to pack huge amounts of information into little spaces. (I know, I know, it’s a thing.)

But I’m excited about the new direction. Among other things, it gives Smedley Butler a chance to breathe a bit more as a character, and that’s space he deserves. Can’t wait for those of you who aren’t familiar yet to meet him and the literal gang.

That’s all for now. Spread the word and the love. If you were forwarded this email and want to see more, check out the archive, and please help support independent accountability journalism that goes deeper by getting a subscription now:

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