Paul here. 2020 has been a rough year and I cannot wait to rip down (and burn?) this year’s calendar and put up next year’s. But, when I take a breath, I know that 2020 wasn’t all bad. The virus gave many of us time (perhaps more than we wanted) to reflect and reevaluate. The Uprising for Black Lives has inspired and challenged us to make urgent changes in our lives and organizations. With the coming administration, change is on its way...no, not enough, but a little. We have so much to look forward to, and still so much work to do, but as we eagerly approach a new year, Theater in Asylum is taking a moment to highlight some of the bright spots of 2020 with some “Greatest Hits” lists compiled by our community. This week, we look to books.
2020 was a great year for my reading. Without as much theater to see, I read much more than I usually do. I started the year with Kim Stanley Robinson’s futuristic, climate-conscious love-letter to the city: New York 2140. I took a deep dive into Philip Pullman’s writing, which I somehow missed but would have loved growing up. I finally read a few books by bell hooks, and relished in her ideas around teaching. I returned to a few favorites: Margaret Atwood and Madeline Miller; as well as that obnoxious genre I can’t get enough of: political memoirs.
The ideas that struck me most though, were the books about humanity as it relates to scale. We’re both powerless within vast systems beyond our control, AND powerful –dangerously so– in a world out of balance and brutally unequal. I don’t think I’ve reread any books as often as I have Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown and Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit. Perhaps I’ll add to the reread list Jenny Odell’s remarkable and understatedly titled How to Do Nothing. Odell really elaborates on an idea adrienne maree brown introduced to me, that, “What you pay attention to grows.” So pay attention, prune away distraction, and be present.
I think about this quote from Richard Powers’ The Overstory:
“Say the planet is born at midnight and it runs for one day. First there is nothing. Two hours are lost to lava and meteors. Life doesn’t show up until three or four a.m. Even then, it’s just the barest self-copying bits and pieces. From dawn to late morning—a million million years of branching—nothing more exists than lean and simple cells. Then there is everything. Something wild happens, not long after noon. One kind of simple cell enslaves a couple of others. Nuclei get membranes. Cells evolve organelles. What was once a solo campsite grows into a town. The day is two-thirds done when animals and plants part ways. And still life is only single cells. Dusk falls before compound life takes hold. Every large living thing is a latecomer, showing up after dark. Nine p.m. brings jellyfish and worms. Later that hour comes the breakout — backbones, cartilage, an explosion of body forms. From one instant to the next, countless new stems and twigs in the spreading crown burst open and run. Plants make it up on land just before ten. Then insects, who instantly take to the air. Moments later, tetrapods crawl up from the tidal muck, carrying around on their skin and in their guts whole worlds of earlier creatures. By eleven, dinosaurs have shot their bolt, leaving the mammals and birds in charge for an hour. Somewhere in that last sixty minutes, high up in the phylogenetic canopy, life grows aware. Creatures start to speculate. Animals start teaching their children about the past and the future. Animals learn to hold rituals. Anatomically modern man shows up four seconds before midnight. The first cave paintings appear three seconds later. And in a thousandth of a click of the second hand, life solves the mystery of DNA and starts to map the tree of life itself. By midnight, most of the globe is converted to row crops for the care and feeding of one species. And that’s when the tree of life becomes something else again. That’s when the giant trunk starts to teeter.”
And on this quote from Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens:
“Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?”
In 2020 I read about feelings of power and powerlessness, to the wild inequalities of power, and to the micro and macro systems seeking survival, resilience, adaptation. In 2021 I have books lined up about American art and politics in the 1930’s, about Occupy Wall Street, and about pre-colonial North America. I want to understand how people change and how societies face existential change. How do we survive apocalyptic forces? How do we not create apocalyptic forces ourselves? How do we reset, rebalance, revive and then keep creating forward?
Below find a list of what the larger TIA community has been reading. And let us know what your favorite books of the year have been. Feel free to reply to this email and let us know. We’ll keep an updated list of books here on our blog.
The TIA Community’s favorite books of 2020
Theater in Asylum (TIA) is a New York-based theater company founded in 2010 to challenge and empower our community. TIA joyfully pursues a rigorous research and an ensemble-driven approach to theater-making. We create performances to investigate our past, interpret our present, and imagine our future. We prize space to process, space to question—asylum—for ourselves and our community.