One of the two best books I read this year was Howard S. Becker’s Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance (1963). The book is probably most famous for the chapter called “Becoming a Marihuana User,” but his argument is really useful and bears on much more than pot. The gist of it is that you don’t get anywhere when you ask the question, “What is it deep down inside person X that inclines him or her to go do activity Y?,” and that we’re much better off asking, “What is the process by which person X has learned to do activity Y?” So it’s really a book about what it means to learn, from the people around you, how to have (and talk about) a given experience.
Though the Becker was given to me by a sociologist friend of mine, I’d first heard about it in Gary Greenberg’s vastly underappreciated Manufacturing Depression. The other best book I read this year was a manuscript copy of Greenberg’s follow-up, the forthcoming Untitled, Utterly Riveting Book about the Lunatic Development of the DSM-V. (Maybe it has a title by now? That’s what I would have called it.) It’s supposedly due out simultaneously with the new DSM, which keeps getting delayed but is now apparently coming out for real in May 2013; Greenberg’s book is basically a story about what’s at stake – economically, philosophically, sociologically – in the right to name our afflictions. Like everything Greenberg writes, it’s brilliantly cranky and clear and hilarious.
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