By Siobhán McGuirk and K Biswas
Red Pepper Magazine
March 31st, 2020
Radical publishing houses are under existential threat – just as people look for ways to fill their time. Siobhan McGuirk and K Biswas select lockdown reads from our favourite booksellers
Every print magazine of Red Pepper features book reviews. Our communities and networks are fueled by radical ideas shared in print, usually published by small, socially-minded companies that run – much like ourselves – on a shoestring budget but with a wealth of determination.
As the team at PM Press noted last week: ‘Whether through physical distancing, shelter-in-place, or mandated lockdown and quarantine, the public spaces where we typically encounter such ideas – bookstores, libraries, schools and universities, bars, cafes, clubs, conferences, and book fairs – let alone grapple with and organize around such notions, are foreclosed.’
PM, as other publishers, have not been diminished in spirit, however. Many are offering free and heavily discounted books to help people – as individuals and groups – get through the coming weeks and months and come out the other side inspired to build a better world. We encourage readers to take advantage of these offers – and wherever possible to help publishers weather the Covid-19 storm by paying full price or making a donation for free titles.
Below, we pick out some gems available from a few of our favourite publishing houses – from poetry to polemics, science-fiction to sporting history. Many are also holding online events and maintaining active blogs in response to the current global context. Follow them on Twitter and join the emerging global socialist book club.
The worker-run and collectively-managed anarchist publisher and distributor, founded in 1990, is currently selling all ebooks for just $1.99. Red Pepper recommends:
- Hegemony How-To: A Roadmap for Radicals by Jonathan Smucker. The grassroots activist talked to us about his activism in 2018.
- The Little Book Of Vegan Poems by Benjamin Zephaniah, who we interviewed in 2018, offers joyous words for adults and children alike.
- Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements edited by Adrienne Maree Brown and Walidah Imarisha. Our review concluded: ‘Through each story we are at once transported to an alternative future or reality, while being invigorated into changing the present.’
As well as offering discounted titles, US-based publisher Haymarket have made ten books available for free download – including key works by Angela Davis, Naomi Klein, and Grace Chang – all chosen for their relevance to the current moment. The publisher explains: ‘We recognize the importance of naming and understanding the source of this deadly and in many ways preventable situation: capitalism, not our fellow-human beings.’
In an effort to ‘bring people together (while staying apart)’ Haymarket has also made study guides on a few popular titles, perfect for self-organised online discussion groups. Red Pepper recommends:
- Extracting Profit: Imperialism, Neoliberalism and the New Scramble for Africa by Lee Wengraf. Read the author’s short essay on the subject here.
- The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World by John Carlos and Dave Zirin, which was reviewed by Mike Marqusee ahead of the London Olympics.
- The BreakBeat Poets series, edited by various leading hip-hop artists, are beautifully illustrated challenges to poetry orthodoxy.
A recent addition to the radical publishing family, O/R publishes just two titles per month, and prints on-demand – their approach designed to ‘jettison the inefficiencies of conventional publishing to better serve readers, writers and the environment.’ Red Pepper recommends:
- PANDEMIC! Covid-19 Shakes the World by Slavoj Zizek is available on pre-order. In our 2010 review of his book, Violence, Clare Woodford asked: ‘I wonder if Zizek is not capitalising on the very fear that he accuses liberal capitalist culture of exploiting?’ Her question remains relevant.
- People Get Ready! by Joe Guinan and Christine Berry offers readers a chance to reflect on the radical potential of Corbynism. In this 2018 essay, Berry analyses Labour in the context of Podemos and Syriza.
Running since 1969, Pluto is one of the UK’s oldest publishers of radical, left-wing nonfiction. Currently offering a free ebook with every order, readers are also encouraged to donate an extra 20 per cent on their order by using the code SOLIDARITY20. Red Pepper recommends:
- Feminism, Interrupted: Disrupting Power by Lola Olufemi, one of our recommended reads in the Spring 2020 issue of Red Pepper, out now.
- Mask Off by JJ Bola, reviewed in our Winter 2019 issue.
- Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption by Simon Pirani, whose 2018 essay proposed ‘the road away from fossil fuels’
- Catching History on the Wing: Race, Culture and Globalisation is a collection of writings by A. Sivanandan, who died in 2018. Read Arun Kundnani’s profile of him here.
- Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts by Mel Evans, a timely read as cultural institutions struggle with financial ruin due to Covid-19 lockdown. Read Evan’s essay on BP sponsorship of the arts here.
Founded in 2007, PM aims to entertain and inspire as well as educate – to that end, it produces colouring and cook books, comics, novels, poetry collections, polemics, memoirs, audio books and films, all with a sharp radical edge. Their entire catalogue is ‘on sale’: use the discount code SOLIDARITY to receive 40 per cent off all purchases, including books, e-books, pamphlets, CDs, DVDs, and t-shirts for the revolution. Red Pepper recommends:
- Witches, Witch-Hunting and Women by Silvia Federici. Our 2018 review concluded: ‘Federici’s attempt to draw together the work of feminists and activist from different parts of the world and place them in historical context is brave, thought-provoking and timely.’
- Girls Will Be Boys Will Be Girls Will Be… A coloring book suitable for children and adults that gently undoes patriarchal attitudes towards gender (while killing boredom).
- (H)afrocentric by Juliana “Jewels” Smith Ronald Nelson addresses student activism, racism and gentrification in a classically illustrated comic book form.
Established in 2014, British publishing house Repeater aims to ‘publish in every sphere and genre, combining vigorous dissent and a pragmatic willingness to succeed where messianic abstraction and quiescent co-option have stalled.’ Prices are slashed across its catalogue and ebook-only purchases now an option for every title. Red Pepper recommends:
- Steal as Much as You Can: How to Win the Culture Wars in an Age of Austerity by Nathalie Olah, who spoke to us in December about working class Tory voters.
- Lean Out by Dawn Foster, who spoke to us before the 2019 election about the power of misinformation.
- Under My Thumb: Songs that Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them edited by Rhian Jones, a new member of the Red Pepper editorial team, and Eli Davies.
- Nincompoopolis: The Follies of Boris Johnson by Douglas Murphy, reviewed by our friends at The Morning Star.
The largest English-language radical press in the world (and formerly New Left Books), Verso is offering a huge ‘Reading in a Time of Coronavirus’ discount to readers: 80 per cent off all ebooks, 40 per cent off all print books, and a series of six free ‘quarantine ebooks’ focusing on the end of capitalism. All available until 2 April (at least). Red Pepper recommends:
- Hostile Environment by Maya Goodfellow.
- One Man’s Terrorist: A Political History of the IRA by Daniel Finn, reviewed in the Spring 2020 issue of Red Pepper, out now.
- We Fight Fascists: The 43 Group and Their Forgotten Battle for Post-war Britain by Daniel Sonabend, one of our recommended reads in our Spring 2020 issue.
- For a Left Populism by Chantal Mouffe, who we interviewed in 2018.
- Radical Happiness Moments of Collective Joy by Lynne Segal, who spoke to us in December about the social care crisis.