(editor’s note: this is Jacob Plitman’s last week as publisher of Jewish Currents, so this week’s reading list consists of a chronological roundup of Jacob’s past reading recs, in his inimitable style)
Jacob Plitman (publisher): I recently read the strangest book. A little boy misses his mom, but finally gets to kiss her and father doesn’t mind. He eats a cookie, and then (I think?) is turned into a charming and disturbed Jewish man who is obsessed with a woman who might be beautiful but who has boring friends, but once you like someone enough you start to like their bad friends anyway. He then mistakes a strain of music for the woman and falls in love with . . . well, not her, but something like her. 18/10
Jacob Plitman (publisher): I recently read the strangest book. A woman who likes her monogrammed luggage smokes a cigarette out of her window, and then goes to the bathroom. There she shuts a cabinet door, and accidentally squishes a cockroach. She is very, very upset by this—and made even more so by the discovery of creepy paintings on her walls. But after seeing the paintings, she goes back to being so upset about squishing the bug (or perhaps the existence of “biology”?) that she ceases to like her luggage, even the monogrammed part. 18/10
Jacob Plitman (publisher): I recently read the strangest book. A man once wandered around a strip mall (but fancy?) and saw a lot of signs, and these signs gave him some ideas I’m trying to understand but can’t. Actually I'm not sure he understood the signs himself, so instead he decided to make them into cards (??), but then he died :/ . Luckily this newer book is supposed to be the finishing of the old book, but is also a book itself, about the other book, and its non-completion, which the book completes, mostly. 18/10
Jacob Plitman (publisher): Buy the latest issue of this released-every-few-years magazine and name drop it as often as possible, and lo: every leftist you know will respect and fear you.
Jacob Plitman (publisher): I recently read the strangest book. A scared boy becomes a very robust man, who then has to help his friend get a divorce, which is making a lot of people upset. A lot of time in the book is spent in the robust gentleman’s mind, which, in addition to many schemes, contains a kind of Italian funhouse for memories? Also everyone’s always telling him he looks like a murderer, which I’m not sure I would take as a compliment, though I think he does. Can’t wait to read the sequel. 18/10
Jacob Plitman (publisher): Take a second and google “supreme court US constitution.” The sparely written and highly limited mandate that appears might surprise you, given the gargantuan status of the Supreme Court we know today. The Court’s core power as the final reader of the Constitution is not derived from the Constitution. Neither is a mandate to serve as the guardrails of the political process. If you’re a lawyer, or just a real freak for US history, you might know this. But more arcane, and arguably more interesting, is how and why this relatively marginal institution developed into the high temple of jurisprudence that it is today.
The answer is just part of a truly enormous tale, well-told in historian Charles Sellers’s magnum opus, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s so thorough, so deep, and—believe it or not—very fun to read. And the Supreme Court saga is just one piece of it! After each chapter, I put the book down feeling like I’d been whispered something secret. 18/10
Jacob Plitman (publisher): At my summer camp, the dining hall sported a large plaque bearing Rabin’s image and the lyrics of the song “Shir L’Shalom,” which were found bloodied and crumped in his pocket after his assassination. One summer, underneath that plaque, we held a color war in which the team representing Lehi, the self-defined “totalitarian” Zionist organization, triumphed over the three other teams representing three other paramilitary groups. The irony of the looming plaque was lost on everyone, including (and perhaps especially) me. I am forced to wonder: What good has venerating Rabin done? What good can it do? Maybe we are better off confronting Rabin’s full life, the failures of Oslo and our own failures—which will likely require us to seek guidance from other corners of our experience.
Jacob Plitman (publisher): This is the only thing I’ve ever read that made me feel like I know anything at all about China. And it’s free! 18/10
Jacob Plitman (publisher): The Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity defines the True Rate of Unemployment as “the percentage of the U.S. labor force that does not have a full-time job (35+ hours a week) but wants one, has no job, or does not earn a living wage, conservatively pegged at $20,000 annually before taxes.” As of October, that rate was 25.5%. Banishing unemployment through a federal jobs guarantee would transform life for almost everyone in this country, employed or not. Read The Case for a Job Guarantee by Pavlina R. Tcherneva. 18/10
Jacob Plitman (publisher): I am reading this book again, and so I am recommending this book again. Since I last wrote, the woman is still in crisis. She is enduring “the hell of living matter.” She is experiencing “a wholly controlled rapacity.” She is discovering “a possible soul, a soul whose head does not devour its own tail.” She has found a “joy without the hope.” 18/10
Jacob Plitman (publisher): I would like to recommend the entire backlog of Conner O’Malley’s YouTube channel. Thank you. 18/10
Jacob Plitman (publisher): The question has surely crossed your mind: What would happen if you approached the proud and celebrated perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide of 1965-66—self-proclaimed “gangsters” aided by the US government and inspired by US popular culture—and offered to help them create a whimsical and wacky commemorative film reenacting their crimes? Here is the answer. 18/10
Jacob Plitman (publisher): Some have claimed that video games are “the future of storytelling.” I have no idea what that means. Game plots are usually garbage that, at best, you endure because the particular game mechanics are fun. You are chopping someone with a sword. You are shooting up an airport. Why? Literally who cares. Also, I don’t know what it means for “storytelling” to have a past or future—but that’s not for the Shabbat Reading List. That is more of a “jewishcurrents.org” vibe.
Anyway, I want to convince you to buy a game called Disco Elysium. The game will work on your computer, no matter how lousy it is. It was made by an art collective led by an Estonian middle school dropout.
As Disco Elysium begins, the screen is black. You are in a death-like sleep. Through dialogue choices in a small menu, you engage two characters: your screeching Limbic System, and your growling Ancient Reptilian Brain. You would like to stay dead. But, they explain, unfortunately you have to wake up. Upon waking, it becomes clear that you have managed to do enough drugs to forget everything you know—the year, your name, and anything about the murder case that, as you learn, you have been investigating for some time. You are a trope. You are an alcoholic amnesiac murder detective.
What follows is a China Miéville-esque noir set in the strike-ridden city of Revachol, which is something like Marseilles plus Tallinn, run by the Dutch East India Company, and still in ruins from a revolutionary uprising decades ago. A company-hired mercenary has been murdered, lynched on a nearby tree. You walk through lushly drawn urban decay, bouncing between conversations with beautifully-acted strangers and chats among the brilliantly-written voices in your own drug-addled head. It functions, basically, like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, except the pages can talk to each other, you’re not allowed to go backwards, and the writing is superb. But the stakes aren’t a murder. They are communism, liberalism, fascism, or ... Disco.
It is the confluence of the player’s fear of missing the right choices and the city of Revachol’s own post-revolutionary decay that gives the game a special power. Revachol made all the wrong choices some time ago. You are hung over. The city is hung over. You grope the body of a murdered city in the search for a murderer. But in the end something else finds you.