Friday, June 10, 2016
June 10, 2016: AmericanStudies Beach Reads: Cultural Memoirs
[For this year’s installment of my annual Beach Reads series, I wanted to highlight books I’m looking forward to checking out. That means I’ll have less to say about them, of course—but I hope you’ll share your thoughts on these and/or your own Beach Read recommendations for a crowd-sourced weekend post that’ll go great with suntan lotion and iced beverages!]
Three contemporary memoirs of race and heritage, culture and community, writing and identity that I’m excited to read this summer and make part of next semester’s senior seminar on analyzing 21st century American identity:
1) Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped (2013): Ward won the Pulitzer Prize for her amazing second novel, Salvage the Bones (2011). Two years later, she published this autoethnographic book, inspired by the tragic deaths of her brother and four other African American men, examining what those lives and deaths can help us see about identity, community, and culture in 21st century America. Seems like a perfect complement to Salvage, and I can’t wait to read the results of Ward turning her prodigious talents to nonfiction.
2) Charles Blow’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones (2014): Blow’s New York Times column deals with issues of race and ethnicity in America (among other topics) with an honesty and rigor matched by few fellow journalists. He’s already written a good bit about autobiographical topics in that space, as exemplified by this stunning piece on the illegitimate detention of his son by New Haven police. But Fire delves far deeper into Blow’s personal past and what it can help us understand about contemporary America, and I look forward to seeing where he takes his readers in this first longer-form work.
3) Dan-el Padilla Peralta’s Undocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League (2015): I know the least about this book of these three, as it had largely been off my radar until I saw it on a new books shelf at the newly renovated, wonderful Fitchburg State University library. So I’ll just note that it looks like not only a compelling and inspiring individual story, but a great complement to the life and work of one of the most impressive contemporary Americans, Jose Antonio Vargas. Can’t wait to see what Peralta can add to the conversation!
Crowd-sourced post this weekend,
PS. So one more time: thoughts on this book? Other Beach Reads you’d share?