Happy New Year! We are officially in 2018. I find New Year’s Eve/Day to be a bit of a downer holiday. Celebrating the onward march of time can be a little depressing, but mainly as an academic, January is hardly a new year, or time for a fresh start. It’s just the beginning of the Spring semester. I tend to find renewal and fresh thinking as the academic year prepares to kick off, in the fall.
But to take a moment to look back at 2017, I’ve stolen the idea behind this post by Erik Loomis at the Lawyers, Guns & Money blog. My list is quite short compared to his, but the reasons for that are: 1) I am a painfully slow reader; 2) I teach a 4-4 plus 2 courses in the summer, so my work load does not provide nearly enough reading time; 3) these are books I read in their entirety, unlike Loomis’ list, which includes books he read only parts of in his research, or for class prep. So here they are, in no particular order:
And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts – I finally read this book after a few years of it sitting on my to be read list. It is still regarded as the most comprehensive text about the early years of the AIDS epidemic and about the lack of action on the part of the Reagan administration. I teach Kushner’s Angels in America quite often, and have wanted to fill in all the gaps in my knowledge about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, so this book helped tremendously. For me, the book also highlighted the importance of local media and scientific literacy among journalists, two things we seem to be losing more each day.
Every Knee Shall Bow by Jess Walter – I read this just for personal enrichment over the summer. It is a thorough examination and history of the family of Randy Weaver and the events that led to and resulted from the siege at Ruby Ridge in 1992. Written by a local reporter (again, local media are crucial), the book carefully follows the history of the Weavers and provides a complete analysis of the government’s actions which led to the deaths of 2 members of the Weaver family and 1 US Marshal. I think this story is also helpful for understanding the white supremacist movement as we are seeing it today.
The Street, by Ann Petry – I included this on my 20th century American Literature survey this fall, and I think it was a really good edition. It is a gross oversimplification to call it a woman centric version of Wright’s Native Son, but it deals with may of the same themes and social problems, as both are Naturalist novels published around 1940. The benefit of The Street is that Lutie, the protagonist, is a much more sympathetic character than Bigger Thomas, so it is somewhat easier for students to connect with her story. It also has important things to say about intersectionality and institutional racism.
Theatre of Good Intentions, by Dani Snyder-Young – this book was a game changer for me and my research. In a slender volume, Snyder-Young unpacks the concept of “applied theatre” and analyzes the shortfalls of theatre as a tool for creating social change. This book, while not the originator of the term “applied theatre,” was my first introduction to the concept and gave me helpful language to talk about my own work in political theatre.
Writing Through Jane Crow, by Ayesha Hardison – This is the kind of book that make you jealous! At least, it made me jealous. It’s a terrific study of writing by African American women in the 20th century and the ways these authors negotiated their intersectionality in the pre-Civil Rights Era. The analysis is so great in this book!
The Dark End of the Street, by Danielle McGuire – With the passing of Recy Taylor a few days ago, interest in this book has been renewed. It is a study of the primary role Black women played in the Civil Rights Movement, and the ways Black women’s bodies were dismissed and devalued through that history. Taylor was a rape survivor who, with the help of NAACP investigator Rosa Parks, pressed charges against the white men who assaulted her. Unfortunately, the men were acquitted, but her story lives on and reminds us of the cost paid by African American women in US history.
What Was African American Literature, by Kenneth Warren – This is an older book, but presents the provocative argument that “African American Literature” as a genre no longer exists. Warren posits that such a genre could only be a unique category under de jure Jim Crow, when it was necessary to write a “separate” literature. Now that society has desegregated, African American Literature cannot apply to texts merely written by Black authors. (I don’t agree with his conclusions, but it is a fascinating argument nonetheless.)