“The Passport to the Future”: My Quarantine Reading List

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Image Description: Six equidistant panels with close ups of book covers.

Quarantine has left a lot of us unmotivated, and I know for me this feeling can be soul-crushing. One thing that has helped me cope with this is reading. Malcolm X once said that “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” That is a quote that weighs on me daily. What is a good education and how do we get it, especially in a time where our education is online and often leaves us fatigued? I don’t think we have to go to college to get an education that prepares us for our future. I think books can easily help us prepare for the future that waits for us. So, I prepared a list of books I have read in quarantine that motivates me and prepares me for the future that has yet to come. 

“Undoing Border Imperialism” by Harsha Walia

Source: AK Press

“Indigenous feminist Jessica Danforth writes, “We belong to Mother Earth in whom no one has claim over and where there aren’t any borders.”

This book caught my eye because, at the time, I hadn’t thought much about border imperialism and what exactly that meant. The author Harsha Walia works with the organization No One Is Illegal and the book gives us an insight into the movement and the organization’s work, such as preventing deportation and helping immigrants with other legal issues. Walia herself is an immigrant and her experiences help us understand her passion for and the significance of her work. I found this book appealing because it discusses how immigrant rights and Indigenous rights go hand in hand, and how, in a lot of ways, both groups need each other to truly break free from border imperialism, colonization, and white supremacy. This book also contains short stories and poems written by immigrants, Indigenous people, and other people who are involved in the same work as Harsha Walia; these passages are incredibly beautiful and show us how art and activism can collide to make something meaningful. 

This book can be purchased here

“Blood in My Eye” by George Jackson

Source: Bookshop

“By compromising and playing at class war, you lose.”

This book was one of those books that just sat with me for a while after reading it. George Jackson finished this collection of essays and prison letters a mere couple of days before his passing.  However, what he left behind was a legacy of political thought that would help shape the political thinkers of his generation and the generations to come. Many have said that this book serves to some extent as a manifesto, a manifesto against capitalism and for Black liberation. Jackson discusses his life in prison and also lectures the reader on politics that have been influenced by the likes of Karl Marx and Che Guevara. He shows us how the writing and political strategies of people like Che Guevara and other leftist figures can be applied to the struggles here in the US. Jackson shows us how to organize in our communities and how collectively we are the strongest force against our oppressors. I think what makes Jackson’s writing so compelling is his bluntness; he tells us how many of his comrades have died for the cause, and in turn, we have to fight harder than ever for the people who aren’t here today. Fifty years later, we see how important works like this still are.

This book can be purchased here.

“Assata: An Autobiography” by Assata Shakur

Source: AK Press

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

This book is an autobiography of the life of Assata Shakur, a woman who was painted as a terrorist by the media and law enforcement. This autobiography counters those claims and shows how her upbringing led her to a life of activism. It also shows us how her work with the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army led to her wrongful conviction. The book gives us a personal account of how Black women are treated in the prison system with Assata going in-depth about how prison guards treated her and her fellow inmates. This is a must-read because I don’t think a lot of us understand how hard it is to be a woman in prison and what exactly that entails. For example, Assata gave birth to her child in prison, and I think circumstances like these are not taken into account or thought about when we think about prison abolition. This autobiography also shows what exactly led to her escape to Cuba and helps us better understand this woman whose character has been torn apart by the media. It shows a softer side of her through her wit and charisma which starkly differs from the pictures that have been painted of her. “A compelling tale of the impact of white racism on a sensitive and powerful young Black woman.” –  Library Journal

This book can be purchased here.

“Resist Everything Except Temptation” by Kristian Williams

Source: AK Press

“I am something of an anarchist, but of course the dynamite policy is very absurd indeed.”

This book was interesting to me because it takes a different approach to leftist ideology. A lot of us don’t engage with Oscar Wilde and his work through a leftist lens, but this book puts him and his life into a leftist framework. However, don’t confuse this book for one of pure admiration of Oscar Wilde; he is a man of his time and Williams does not let us forget that. Williams, in summary, tells us that to truly live a fulfilling life and to be able to do activities and careers that we like, we have to escape the confining box capitalism puts us in. As a baby leftist, you often come across people who are resistant to leftist ideology because of how leftists and leftist societies have been portrayed in the media (think of Ayn Rand’s Anthem). However, this instead shows us that we gain individual freedom when we make sure everyone in our society is taken care of. It even goes as far as saying that under a leftist society the arts are freer and have more room to flourish. I think this is beautifully written and avoids painting Oscar Wilde as the pinnacle of anarchism, but instead puts his flamboyant personality and life into leftist ideology, almost to make the would-be leftists not so afraid of what leftism is. 

This book can be purchased here.

“Live from Death Row” by Mumia Abu-Jamal

“Prison is a second-by-second assault on the soul, a day-to-day degradation of the self, an oppressive steel and brick umbrella that transforms seconds into hours and hours into days.”

This is a book that delves into the problems surrounding prison through the eyes of a man who is currently in prison and at the time on death row. Mumia Abu-Jamal is still in prison for a crime he did not commit, and this book is just one of the many books he’s written since he’s been in prison. This is a work of compassion; you can’t read it without being changed. There are many tear-jerking aspects and moments, and it feels incredibly brave for a man to put so much emotion into essays about his real-life experiences on death row. It shows you that in order to fight for prison abolition, you have to fight with compassion in your heart and with compassion for the people who are currently in prison. These prison essays remind us that the people behind bars are just that, people, and in order to really stand in solidarity with them, we need to treat them like people and really understand, or at least try to understand, what they go through in prison. Adrienne Rich said this about the book: “We outside aren’t supposed to feel connected with people “inside”– least of all those on death row. Mumia Abu-Jamal’s eloquent, scholarly, urgent dispatches teach us that we ignore those connections at our own peril.” 

This book can be purchased here.

“You Don’t Have To Fuck People Over To Survive” by Seth Tobocman

Source: AK Press

“You will never succeed in joining their club.”

This is a different type of book compared to the other works on this list. This graphic novel depicts the events and activism of the 80s, but you don’t have to know much about that era to understand what it’s about. A lot of the graphics can be applied to our current day and age. If you have trouble picking up a book and reading, then I would recommend starting with this graphic novel, especially if you are interested or just starting out in leftist theory. As the title suggests, you don’t have to fuck people over to survive; instead, we would all probably be a lot happier if we worked together to ensure our survival. Alan W. Moore has this to say about the graphic novel and about the author,  “Seth is an equal-opportunity offender of the powerful—the rich, the complacent winners, the gentrifiers, and especially those whose positions and attainments rest on violence, past and present.”

This book can be purchased here.

“Revolutionary Suicide” by Huey P. Newton

“A fool for the revolution like Paul was a fool for Christ.”

This book was written by one of the co-founders of the Black Panther Party and serves as a memoir of Huey P. Newton’s life before and during his time with the Black Panthers, including why he and his comrades decided to create the group. “Revolutionary Suicide” details a lot of the historic events that the Black Panthers were a part of. This memoir also shows us how at odds the Black Panther Party was with law enforcement and the government. Newton gives us first-hand accounts of how the government treated the Black Panthers, and how many of them were wrongfully convicted of crimes during their short-lived time as a party. It’s a good read if you want to learn more about the Black Panther Party, especially from one of the brains behind the organization. This book also shows how important and vital they were to their community, launching various programs that aimed at bettering and ensuring the survival of their community, such as their free children’s breakfast and clothing and shoe drives. Reading about these programs was my favorite part of the book, and I think these programs are something we should all look up to. “Revolutionary Suicide” shows us that one single person can be the change we need, but as a community and collective, we are stronger. 

This book can be purchased here.

“Freedom is a Constant Struggle” by Angela Y. Davis

Source: AK Press

“At this point, at this moment in the history of the US, I don’t think there can be policing without racism. I don’t think that the criminal justice system can operate without racism.”

Angela Davis is by far my favorite author. This book is a collection of interviews and essays all detailing that freedom is indeed a constant struggle. In this collection, she discusses a wide range of topics emphasizing how oppression is worldwide, from America all the way to Palestine, and that we can all learn from each other in how to battle oppression. She also discusses intersectionality and details prison abolition in the modern-day. Overall, I think this book shows us is that whether it’s 1976 or 2021, we are still fighting the same battles and that we still have so much more to learn from Angela and her generation. Angela Davis is timeless, and when we think about how her work has stretched generations, it’s both inspiring and daunting. Like she reminds us, freedom is something we will always be fighting for. 

This book can be purchased here.

Reading can be really expensive and sometimes it feels like only people who can spare money can afford to read and enjoy a good book, but don’t let this fool you! Everyone deserves the opportunity to learn and read, so below I have provided some resources where you can find pdfs of books similar to the ones I discussed above. 

The Anarchist Library

Google Doc of Books 

Oftentimes we also have no clue where to start when it comes to reading (at least I know that was true for me). One resource that helped me figure out what books to pick up was Noname’s book club. They recommend new books every month or so, and it’s a great way to interact with a community of book readers!

Noname Book Club

And if you still want more book recommendations here’s a couple of books that are similar to the ones above that are currently on my to-be-read list!

“Che: A Revolutionary Life” by Jon Lee Anderson

“The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander

“Women, Class, and Race” by Angela Y. Davis

“Lakota Woman” by Mary Brave Bird

“Art and Society” by William Morris

I encourage you to engage with these books, and all the media you consume, critically. When it comes to learning about different ways of thinking and social issues, you aren’t going to agree 100% with the author and the author might say something you don’t agree with at all. When reading these books you might come across an idea that you dislike, but the point of reading and learning is not to believe and agree with everything you read, but to start critically thinking about the issues the authors present. 

Learning and reading are for everyone, go and enjoy a good book!

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