Monday, September 30, 2019
[Busy with a bunch of book talks at the moment—on which more in a few weeks—so a series of brief posts highlighting great new books I’ve read this year. Add your own recent reads, whether new books or otherwise, for a crowd-sourced weekend reading list!]
I’ve written before in this space about my general preference for ambitious, messy, sprawling epics over tightly controlled, perfectly constructed gems. I certainly appreciate and often enjoy the latter, but would say that many of my favorite books fall into the former category. And this year has held true to form, as one of my favorite recent reads, Richard Powers’ The Overstory (2018), is an ambitious, messy, sprawling epic if ever there was one. Powers’s epic narrates the stories of nearly a dozen main characters and their families across multiple centuries of American history, all through a unifying narrative structure that adds one more hugely ambitious element to the mix: the lives and perspectives (to a degree—this isn’t epic fantasy) of trees. In so doing he also crafts one of the great environmental novels, as well as an impassioned example of climate change literature (or cli-fi, as it’s sometimes called). If that sounds like too much, well, we might have different literary tastes; but if it sounds appealing, I promise you won’t find a more inventive and compelling read.
Next recent read tomorrow,
PS. Thoughts on this book? Other recent reads you’d share?
Saturday, September 28, 2019
[A Recap of the month that was in AmericanStudying.]
September 2: Academic Labor: Adjunctification: In place of my usual semester previews I featured a series on academic labor, starting with the disastrous & dehumanizing central higher ed trend.
September 3: Academic Labor: My Union: The series continues with formal and informal ways that my faculty union represents the best of 21C academic labor.
September 4: Academic Labor: Scholarly Organizations as Advocates: How an international and a regional academic organization can take part in labor conversations, as the series continues.
September 5: Academic Labor: SSN and the Promise and Cherish Acts: Two vital pieces of proposed legislation in Massachusetts, and how academics can get more involved in supporting them.
September 6: Academic Labor: Further Reading: The series concludes with a handful of pieces and voices to keep the academic labor conversations going.
September 7-8: Academic Labor: Hire Jeff Renye!: A special weekend tribute to my friend and colleague who represents the frustrations and the possibilities of adjunct faculty.
September 9: Slave Rebellions: The Stono Rebellion: On the 280th anniversary of a largely forgotten slave revolt, a series on such rebellions begins with two historical lessons from that event.
September 10: Slave Rebellions: Gabriel’s Rebellion: The series continues with how a thwarted 1800 revolt both echoes and diverges from familiar historical tropes.
September 11: Slave Rebellions: Denmark Vesey: Three compelling details about the leader of a thwarted 1822 South Carolina rebellion, as the series rolls on.
September 12: Slave Rebellions: Nat Turner: A challenge and a benefit to remembering the rebel leader as a Virginia and American hero.
September 13: Slave Rebellions: Henry Highland Garnet’s Address: The series concludes with the contextual and contemporary significance of a controversial speech.
September 14-15: Representing Slave Rebellions: Anticipating the forthcoming film Harriet, a weekend post on five cultural representations of slave revolts.
September 16: Constitution Week: The Articles of Confederation: A Constitution Day series kicks off with what was drastically different in the nation’s first founding documents, and what wasn’t.
September 17: Constitution Week: The Anti-Federalists: The series continues with three equally salient ways to frame the Constitution’s opposition.
September 18: Constitution Week: The Bill of Rights: The history, significance, and limits of the Constitution’s first evolution, as the series rolls on.
September 19: Constitution Week: Gordon Barker’s Vital Book: A great scholarly work that helps us understand a vital Constitutional and Early Republic question.
September 20: Constitution Week: Birthright Citizenship: The series concludes with how a post-Civil War debate reveals complex, crucial realities of both the Constitution and public scholarship.
September 21-22: Constitution Week: 21st Century Threats: A special weekend post on current threats to the Constitution that has become even more relevant in the subsequent week!
September 23: AmericanStudy a Banned Book: Huck Finn and The Giver: A Banned Books Week series begins with the distinction between banned and challenged books, and why it matters.
September 24: AmericanStudy a Banned Book: The Chocolate War and A Separate Peace: The series continues with two iconic, frequently banned YA novels that fractured my innocence alongside that of their characters.
September 25: AmericanStudy a Banned Book: The Satanic Verses: When banning becomes censorship and the best way to respond to it, as the series reads on.
September 26: AmericanStudy a Banned Book: Heather Has Two Mommies: The children’s book that reveals how cultural representations both challenge prejudice and welcome diverse audiences.
September 27: AmericanStudy a Banned Book: 2018’s Most Challenged Books: The series concludes with three takeaways from the ALA’s annual list of the most challenged books.
Next series starts Monday,
PS. Topics you’d like to see covered in this space? Guest Posts you’d like to contribute? Lemme know!
Friday, September 27, 2019
[Happy Banned Books Week! In high school I had a deeply nerdy sweatshirt that read “Celebrate Freedom: Read a Banned Book”; this week I’ll do so by AmericanStudying books that have been frequently banned, in the past or recently. And yeah, read a Banned Book this week!]
On three takeaways from the American Library Association’s annual list.
1) Anti-LGBTQ prejudice, still: A great deal has changed in the 30 years since the publication of and controversies over yesterday’s focal book, Heather Has Two Mommies; but, well, the more things change, etc. Four of 2018’s eleven most challenged books are on the list largely (if not solely) due to their inclusion of LGBTQIA+ content (the evolving acronym certainly reflects some of those social changes), making clear that the groups and perspectives that objected to Newman’s children’s book remain powerful forces in the debates over classroom, school, and library collections. But that number also reflects the exponential and continued growth of children’s and YA portrayals of these identities since 1989, a trend which I have to imagine (with a great deal of satisfaction) frustrates those bigots to no end.
2) Satire/humor, still: Although their situations were of course very different, two of the other banned books I highlighted this week, Huck Finn and The Satanic Verses, could both accurately be described as humorous/satirical works. Two of 2018’s most challenged books fall squarely into that category as well: A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, a satirical, political children’s book co-created by TV humorist John Oliver; and Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants YA series. As that last hyperlinked post indicates, I’m not quite as big a fan of Pilkey’s books as are my sons, and I suppose I get why their negative portrayals of school might have led to some of those challenges. But at the same time, what an absolutely tone-deaf way to respond to depictions of school as overly serious, allergic to humor, and opposed to creativity!
3) A 2018 snapshot: I imagine this would be the case with each’s year list, but it’s striking how much the 2018 list reflects many of the core issues facing not just young people (although yes) but all Americans in this era. The #1 book, Alex Gino’s George (2015), features a transgender protagonist and many related themes of gender and sexual identities; the #4, Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give (2017), focuses on a police shooting of an African American young man; and the #6, Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why (2007), depicts social media conflicts, online bullying, sexual assault, and teen suicide, among other issues. Both the books themselves and the efforts to challenge them reflect a society and culture dealing with and divided by these issues, which of course is just one more excellent reason to read these (and all) banned books.
September Recap this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Banned books you’d highlight?