|TL 62:1 Book Reviews|
Badia, J. (2011). Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers.
The author, women's studies professor Janet Badia, professes a love for Sylvia Plath's writing in the introduction of her fine and thorough book. I too must confess a long standing love of Plath that began in early college when a grad student friend described Plath as "a word monster". Intrigued, I bought Ariel shortly after. Since, I have found myself on the long side of many arguments, defending her poetry against anyone who would discredit her due to the perceived "cult" of her suicide. I was less interested in her death than her ability to string words in a way that made my head feel expansive – like a bright light had been turned on.
Badia does my argument better in spades. Through intensive, rigorous analysis, she dismantles the popular and totally accepted point of view that Plath readers are all depressed young women elevating Plath to the level of priestess, women who themselves canonize an undeserving poet by their uncritical consumption rather than reading with skill. Instead of poring over Plath's actual writing, Badia takes on the media world surrounding Plath's work, reception, and image in popular culture. Picking apart myriad book reviews referring to Plath's readership in often unsavory terms ("family-hating shrews" comes to mind), Badia considers the image of the Plath reader as represented in popular culture, in television, literature, and film, and finally addresses the legacy of Plath as delivered by her estate, namely her late husband Ted Hughes and her daughter Frieda Hughes. Encompassing the specific analyses is the concept of the woman reader as it has been perpetrated in culture since well before Plath was born, as weak, uncritical, and with a tendency toward "popular" reading, hidden in tropes that have become completely accepted: a mythology. The cultural tendency to see Plath's readers in such a way is part of a larger discounting and misrepresentation of women readers.
This point raises Badia's text from an analysis of Plath readership to an example of misogyny at the deepest levels, in media, pop culture, and social consciousness. This book is sorely needed. It is razor sharp and finely wrought. It is, however, based in the analytical academic writing process. As a former literature student and a current public librarian, I straddle the fence of academic readership. My interest level in the subject is high, but I often struggled with the academic language. For this reason, this book is essential for an academic library with literature, media, and women's studies, but may be better as an ILL for most public libraries. Hopefully, it will be read by great students who can further the field with more accessible articles and books.
Ashley Roach, Humanities Librarian
Many readers have heard of the Tuskegee Airmen, the African American pilots whose accomplishments during World War II helped convince Harry S. Truman to integrate the armed forces. This new history of the airmen by Joseph Caver, Jerome Ennels, and Daniel Haulman (all three authors are associated with the Air Force Historical Research Agency) succeeds in bringing the airmen's story to life by putting faces on the young men who were responsible for making the Tuskegee Airmen a successful unit. The book also succeeds in portraying their courage—not only in the face of enemy fire but also in fighting racial discrimination back home and at the military frontline.
From Bessie Coleman, Hubert Julian, and Eugene Bullard to Ronald E. McNair and Guion Bluford, African American men and women have always been involved with flight. The authors begin with an introduction that gives a succinct history of that involvement and sets the stage for the remainder of the book, which relates the Tuskegee Airmen's history and legacy. The book is divided into three main parts—Training, Overseas Deployment, and an Epilogue. Other contents include a list of Tuskegee Airmen statistics, class photographs, illustrations of the various units' emblems, and a Tuskegee Airmen pilot roster.
The first part of The Tuskegee Airmen follows the development of Tuskegee Institute from one of a handful of African American schools to be selected to participate in the Civilian Pilot Training Program to a school with a government contract to provide primary pilot training for the War Department. This section also describes how pilots who successfully completed primary training at Tuskegee Institute continued with more advanced training at Tuskegee Army Air Field and other facilities before being assigned duties overseas.
Overseas Deployment describes the missions of the Tuskegee Airmen in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. Whether flying patrol missions or escorting heavy bombers, these pilots "demonstrated that they could fly fighters in combat, that they could fly any kind of fighter aircraft on any kind of fighter mission, and that they could do it as well as their non-black compatriots and enemies." (p. 103)
As the Epilogue relates, the story of the Tuskegee Airmen continued after the end of World War II. Some men remained in the military and served with distinction in Korea and Vietnam. Among the Airmen, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. and Daniel "Chappie" James rose to the rank of general in the Air Force while Guion Bluford became the first African American to go into space. The authors conclude that African Americans in the military have benefitted immensely from doors opened by the Tuskegee Airmen.
Kathy Campbell, Head of Reference
Dr. Margaret M. Storey, an associate professor of history at DePaul University and author of Loyalty and Loss: Alabama's Unionists in the Civil War and Reconstruction, does an outstanding job of editing Tried Men and True, or Union Life in Dixie, the Civil War reminiscences of Tennessee Unionist Thomas Jefferson Cypert. Originally written in 1866, Cypert's manuscript discusses his theories for regional disloyalty to the Union and then articulates the tense and violent wartime experiences of Unionists in the Wayne County, Tennessee, area. Only lightly editing the work, Storey adds the appropriate materials around the text and through endnotes to clarify Cypert's experiences. Her work makes Tried Men and True, or Union Life in Dixie a must have for those interested in the Civil War and Tennessee history.
A native Tennessean, Cypert was a non-slave owning yeoman farmer with anti-secessionist attitudes at the beginning of the Civil War. Accordingly, he is baffled by the willingness of his neighbors to support the Confederate cause and thus spends many pages throughout his memoirs railing against the preachers, politicians, and members of the press whom he blames for misleading those who became secessionists in his region. Due to his very public Unionist stance, Cypert is harassed by his pro-Confederate neighbors. Unable to remain in his own home and after several altercations, Cypert and other Unionists were mustered into the Second Tennessee Mounted Infantry, Companies A and B, in October 1863 with Cypert elected as the captain of Company A. After a short time in Waynesboro, Tennessee, the Second Tennessee Mounted Infantry occupied Clifton, Tennessee, patrolling the region and engaging Confederate guerrillas. During Cypert's service, he was captured in April 1864, only to escape and return to his command fifteen days later due to the aid of other silent Unionists and slaves. Discharged in October 1864 in Nashville, Cypert was elected to the Sixteenth Senatorial District and became involved in early Reconstruction efforts in Tennessee. Ending his work at this point, Storey provides the remainder of his personal story, a mixture of success and failure as a family man, a farmer, a politician, and a preacher in the Editor's Introduction. Cypert died in Tennessee in 1901 after an illness attributed to the war and without publishing his manuscript.
A superbly edited work, Tried Men and True, or Union Life in Dixie is an important account of a Southern Unionist in Tennessee. Taken alone, the manuscript would be a little difficult for those not familiar with local history to understand; however, with the addition of an introduction discussing Cypert's life, a timeline, an index, a biographical index of persons, and endnotes by Storey, the work becomes not only understandable, but a very valuable narrative. Written in approachable prose by Cypert and supported by Storey's outstanding research, this piece is recommended for both academic and public libraries. Anyone interested in the Civil War or Tennessee studies will find this work worthy of reading.
Dr. Derek Allen Clements, Instructor of History/Social Sciences
Many historians have argued Hitler largely blundered his way into the Eastern campaign against Stalin's Soviet Union. Ostkrieg argues, however, that it was primarily ideology and not logic that was the impetus for Hitler's racial war of destruction and extermination that drove Operation Barbarossa. Stephen Fritz never strays from this singular focus that Hitler's war was always in the East, which distinguishes Ostkrieg from other works in the field.
"If this radical anti-Semitism gave Hitler's ideology its manic dynamism," Fritz argues, "it was Lebensraum that provided the vital link between dogma and a pragmatic program of territorial expansion" (p. 6). He further argues that "if the purpose of the war was threefold--to destroy the threat of Jewish-Bolshevism, to find a solution to the Jewish question, and to secure living space for Germany's elevation to great power status--the ends would determine the means" (p. 94). Fritz explains that the war of territorial expansion to secure Lebensraum (the "living space" of farmland and natural resources necessary for the German working people) is inextricably woven with Hitler's war to annihilate Jewish-Bolshevism.
Ostkrieg is a hefty 640 pages, but is accessible and aided greatly by an engaging and easy to follow writing style. Fritz devotes over 100 pages to supplementary data, reference material (end notes, bibliography, and index), statistical data, maps and photos, as well as a glossary of German terms and abbreviations used throughout the book – which this reviewer found very helpful. Stephen G. Fritz is professor of history at East Tennessee State University, and has also written Frontsoldaten: The German Soldier in World War II (1995) and Endkampf: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Death of the Third Reich (2004) both published by the University Press of Kentucky.
The book is a thoroughly-researched and well-written work clearly intended for an academic and scholarly audience. This is no beginner's introduction to Germany during World War II. While readers need not be experts in the field, they should have a broad understanding of the era's history and politics, particularly in connection to Germany and the First World War.
This work is recommended for any historical collection focused on the period, and most especially for those needing new and current World War II scholarship. It is definitely suited for an academic library, but given the importance of the topic and the ever-present interest in World War II, I would hesitate to rule it out completely for a larger public library that may have a research audience. Selectors need to keep in mind that it does have a very limited focus on the war.
Anthony Prince, Cataloging Manager
Barbara Hochman, a professor of Foreign Literature and Languages at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, has written a thorough examination of how the reading of Uncle Tom's Cabin changed over its first sixty years (1851-1911). The "reading revolution" in the title is a term used to describe a critical approach involving changes in reading habits and the influence of technology and historical, cultural, and literary conventions. Hochman argues that the popularity of Uncle Tom's Cabin when it was published in 1851 may be explained in part by an interest in issues surrounding slavery. Following the Civil War, its readership declined as the public looked toward the future rather than the past and attitudes toward slavery changed. There was renewed interest in the 1890's when information about slavery was scarce and the sons and daughters of ex-slaves turned to slave narratives for information.
Hochman examines the multiple formats in which Uncle Tom's Cabin was published. It was originally printed as a serial in an abolitionist newspaper and the author traces the content of this newspaper at the time the work was serialized. It was later reprinted with new introductions and illustrations. Hochman maintains that new editions "tell us less about the original text than about the culture for which the new version is prepared" (p.22). She examines the book's relationship to changes in the attitudes toward fiction in literary culture. For a long time fiction was viewed with suspicion and its reading disapproved of by ministers and educators. Hochman proposes that Uncle Tom's Cabin helped legitimize fiction as a literary form by depicting novel reading as thoughtful and engaged. Two chapters in the book are devoted to children's adaptations, showing how these editions reflect the contemporary cultural attitudes toward race. For example, one edition from 1853 minimalizes the racial stereotyping of the novel and invites readers to identify with the characters, while one from the turn of the century reflects the segregationists' attitudes of the time.
Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Reading Revolution is a well-researched work that contributes to the scholarship of reading, the reader and the history of the book. Its 377 pages contain over 100 pages of notes and bibliography. The author's sources include contemporary and current scholarship, as well as readers' diaries and letters. The writing is typically academic (several chapters begin "This chapter argues that…" or "This chapter explores…"). It is not light reading. However, many will find it insightful and fascinating. This title should be seriously considered by libraries in academic institutions serving faculty, graduate students, and scholars.
Kountz, J. S. (2011). Record of the Organizations Engaged in the Campaign, Siege, and Defense of Vicksburg. Edited by Timothy B. Smith. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2011. 186 pages. ISBN: 9781572337602.
This book is largely a compilation of historian John S. Kountz's two works on the Vicksburg campaign of the Civil War with a new introduction by Timothy B. Smith which largely focuses on Kountz's life and work. Kountz served in an Ohio regiment that fought in the war and later became the military park's historian. There are a few black and white photographs in this section, including the monument for Kountz's unit and a group photograph which includes Kountz. The other portraits in this section are of men who influenced Kountz's writings on Vicksburg. The first portion which was previously unpublished is the campaign overview. It gives a broad overview of previous attempts to capture Vicksburg and of the campaigns, siege, and defense that took place between March and July 1863. It is set in a readable modern typeface.
The second portion, the actual record, is a facsimile of the original. Typical entries include the list of unit leaders, a summary of the unit's involvement at Vicksburg, and lists of casualties. Union and Confederate forces are included. It would have been nice to have the typeface match the first part, although it would have required additional time to set because of the numerous tables in the section. It is valuable for those wanting an overview of the campaign and units involved. Histories of individual units and regiments will be more valuable to those wishing to study individuals or units in depth. The work could have been enhanced by more comprehensive indexing. Recommended primarily for academic libraries with large Civil War collections although some larger public libraries with strong Civil War collections may wish to acquire it as well.
Lori Thornton, Technical Services Librarian
The Ballad of Tom Dooley is the most recent in Sharyn McCrumb's Ballad series, novels portraying the Southern Appalachian landscape, along with a fictionalized social history of its people. This selection is the ninth in the series and it brings to life the popular twentieth-century mountain ballad, Tom Dooley, made famous by balladeers including Doc Watson, the Kingston Trio, and Frank Proffitt. McCrumb does not leave it at that as she carefully examines the facts in the Reconstruction era murder and subsequent trial, and brings to the reader an alternate and convincing theory. The author extensively researches her story as is evidenced by the notes and acknowledgments at the end of the book. She provides her readers with a view of the heartbreaking desolation and despair of post-Civil War times in the Appalachians.
The plot comes from events in rural Wilkes County, North Carolina, surrounding the murder of a young woman, Laura Foster, and subsequent hanging of Tom Dula, former Confederate soldier recently returned from the war. This is not a "whodunit" but a sordid story of betrayal and deceit set in an atmosphere of poverty, starvation, and racism. Two first-person narrators, Zebulon Baird Vance and Pauline Foster debunk most of the "facts" as told in the folk song. Vance, former governor of North Carolina, has appeared in another of McCrumb's books, and his voice is strong and true. He is convinced of the innocence of Dula, and endeavors to uncover the truth.
Pauline Foster is a conniving, pathological liar; as she manipulates the characters in the novel, the reader hopes for a good resolution, but perceives that this will most likely not end well. Although Pauline's is an unhappy voice, McCrumb's writing talents come through as the reader is, at once, horrified and fascinated by her audacity and slyness. Ann Melton, Tom's lover and childhood sweetheart, is portrayed as a beautiful, vacuous woman and we learn about her primarily through Pauline's narrative. Reading between the lines, the reader finds that Laura Foster is most likely a victim of Pauline's vindictiveness. Other characters, such as Ann's husband James and the mulatto, John Anderson, were treated by Pauline in an indifferent fashion except when they could be of use in her deceits.
Whether one is a devoted Sharyn McCrumb reader or not, this well-researched Southern Appalachian novel is both entertaining and informative as it paints a harsh, realistic picture of Reconstruction in this rural area. It is recommended for public library collections and for academic libraries that wish to offer regional fiction to accompany American history curricula.
Sandra C. Clariday, Professor and Associate Dean for Library & Information Services
This book by eminent country music historian Bill Malone is an appreciation of the contributions that folk musician Mike Seeger made to the dissemination of the music of the southern Appalachians, primarily old-time and bluegrass.
Though less well-known than his older half-brother Pete—the iconic banjo-frailing, left-political folksinger—Mike Seeger (1933 – 2009) is shown by this book to have had the greater impact as a purveyor to the world of instrumental styles and techniques that are the bedrock of the vibrant and continuing tradition of acoustic music in the mountain South.
This music Seeger called "the true vine." It was, Seeger said, "the home music made by American Southerners before the media age" that was the result of "hundreds of years of British traditions that blended in our country with equally ancient African traditions to produce songs and sounds that are unique to the United States."
According to Malone, Seeger made it his "mission" to "preserve and present" this music to the public, this music to which he was so passionately devoted as to be able to say "the words are my Shakespeare …; the music is my Bach." Seeger described the first time he heard Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys, at age 19, as being "as near about to a religious experience as I've ever had."
Seeger carried out his mission in a number of ways. Himself a gifted musician (brother Pete called him the best musician in a very musical family), Seeger sang and played guitar, fiddle, banjo, autoharp, harmonica, dulcimer, and jaw harp. Some of his recordings were intended to document instrumental styles (fiddle, guitar, and banjo) in the interest of preserving them; these recordings served as instructional manuals for a global expansion in the performers of this music, particularly bluegrass. An indefatigable collector, he recorded performers all across the southern Appalachians both to learn from them and to promote them.
Although Seeger eschewed the direct political involvement of his brother Pete, there was nonetheless a political aspect to his music-making. Malone says that Seeger believed this music to be "inherently a political statement because it embodied and demonstrated the innate worth of average people." In a quiet but overt way, Seeger—at a time when the South was a battleground for civil rights—made it understood that "the true vine" commingled African and European roots in a way that made racism a lie.
While satisfying all the requirements for documentation, this book's almost conversational style makes for very enjoyable reading. It can be recommended particularly to academic libraries with folk music courses and to public libraries where there is a strong interest in bluegrass, old-time, country, folk, or acoustic music.
A significant portion of coastal beach property is held in public trust in the United States. Yet encroaching beachfront home owners deploy private security personnel, construct fences with locked gates, place "no trespassing" signs, and create natural sand barriers to restrict the public from accessing beach areas between their homes and the ocean. Unlawful? Clearly. But sadly there is generally little the public can do to quickly and effectively stop this overreaching behavior. The law is simply not constructed to afford meaningful protection to the public from aggressive property owners (vii-viii). This example of "overreaching" is the first of many illustrations used by author Jason Mazzone throughout Copyfraud. In this one simple illustration Mazzone outlines a systemic problem with intellectual property in the United States – overreaching by copyright holders who claim far greater rights than the law actually grants them and who face little opposition by a public with little options.
Over the last two decades, the use and misuse of copyrighted material on the Internet has spurred public debate about the inherent problems with intellectual property law in the United States. Much of it has focused on technical details and limitations. Mazzone approaches the problem from a new perspective, proposing that the real problem is "copyfraud." Copyfraud is used "to classify forms of overreaching," and "entails a false claim to intellectual property where none exists" (2). These false claims are endemic to intellectual property law, and represent a "basic defect of modern copyright law" in that "statutory protections for copyright are not balanced with affirmative protections for the public domain" (6). Mazzone outlines many severe threats that "overreaching" poses to creativity, education, and research. While he dedicates a large portion of Copyfraud to illuminating problems in intellectual property law, in the final chapters he discusses ways the government and private citizens can combat "copyfraud."
Copyfraud is written for a general public whose knowledge of intellectual property law has risen over the past decades. The book has ten chapters and is well-organized, broken into digestible portions – each chapter is subdivided into related topics, and each of these subdivisions tends to contain the same structure and style. Mazzone supports each claim with ample relevant evidence. Chapter summaries discuss specific problems and how to challenge them. While dealing with a legal subject can seem intimidating at first glance, Copyfraud does not feature the denseness one might expect from a legal text. A casual reader will not have to consult external references to comprehend the material, as it features robust references and an index.
Jason Mazzone is the Gerald Baylin Professor of Law at the Brooklyn Law School. He specializes in constitutional law and history and intellectual property law, publishing and blogging on the topics. This book should be required reading for any librarian. Mazzone even devotes two full pages as to why "libraries should be at the forefront of efforts to protect the public domain" from national activism, to making sure our users accurately and fully know the rights of public domain (215-216). Because of its accessibility, it is recommended for both public and academic libraries, and is especially relevant for law libraries.
Anthony Prince, Cataloging Manager
According to Pulitzer Prize winning author, Mark Neely, the aim of his new book, Lincoln and the Triumph of the Nation, is to "--- prove that there was genuine drama in the constitutional history of the Civil War, the equal at times of its much-studied military history." It is the first study of both the U.S Constitution and the Confederate Constitution within one volume.
In the first of three parts, Neely describes Lincoln's broad interpretation of the Constitution influenced by his nationalism, his wish for economic development, and his antislavery views. Three main decisions made by Lincoln, the war itself, the suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus, and the Emancipation Proclamation, were debated on constitutional grounds. Since the Constitution does not explicitly cover any of these decisions by Lincoln, his defense had to be a wide interpretation of the powers of the President as stated in the Constitution and the best interests of the nation. His detractors demanded a more literal interpretation of the Constitution giving more power to the Congress. Much of the documentation, both pro and con, in this section comes from seldom researched pamphlets from "the vigorous political culture of the nineteenth century's party politics."
The second part of the book looks at the judicial history, not from the perspective of the U.S. Supreme Court which seldom had the opportunity to see any war related cases, but from the level of the state courts. It documents the many court cases, most involving habeas corpus, that found their way into the lower courts after the suspension of habeas corpus. These courts also gave opinions on the constitutionality of congressional acts such as the Legal Tender Act and the Conscription Act. The author uses many seldom seen court documents as references in this section.
While the first two parts deal mostly with the constitutional questions in the north, the third part compares the Confederate Constitution with its nearly identical twin, the U.S. Constitution. The main difference being that the Confederate Constitution was more explicit when it came to slavery. It also covers the Southern concerns over secession and the deratifying of the Constitution, the suspension of habeas corpus by the Confederate government, and also state rights. State rights in the Confederacy had a lot to do with southern nationalism at all social levels since it was associated with individual liberty by both slave owners and non-slaveholders. Neely includes a prologue and an epilogue, as well as copious notes, a thorough bibliography and an index.
Sue Alexander, User Services Librarian
George in The Plot Against Hip Hop: A Novel gives a behind-the-scenes look at the dark and cavernous world of hip hop. D. Hunter, the main character, owner of D Security is working in his office when he hears a bump at the door. When he investigates the bump; he finds his acquaintance, music critic Dwayne Robinson, injured and bloody at his office door. D attempts to ascertain from Dwayne the culprits of his massive and imminently fatal wounds. Dwayne's replies "Biggie was right" and "It was all a dream" lead D on a quest to find the who, what, and why anyone would want to murder Dwayne Robinson, a middle-aged black intellectual, music critic and author.
D's quests reveal that there is more than meets the eye in the darkness of the underground hip hop world. Dwayne had apparently uncovered some dirt on high ranking hip hop corporate entities that, if known, could and likely would bring down many at the top of the hip hop world. D is determined to solve the murder of his friend Dwayne. Along the way D interacts with "Fly Ty" of the NYPD, FBI agents, and some known gangstas from his old 'hood. These interactions lead D closer to the truth, and possibly closer to being murdered himself.
There is a focus on the Sawyer Report and its relevancy to Dwayne's murder as well as the murderous demise of another popular writer and music critic Harry Tate, A.K.A. "Truegod," and other related murders.
The Plot Against Hip Hop: A Novel, is full of unseemly characters, plots, twists and turns that guide the reader through possible conspiracy theories. True hip hop enthusiasts will find George's novel eye-opening, and will appreciate the inclusion of old-school hip hop MCs as well as new-school MCs intertwined throughout the storyline.
This book is recommended for lovers of hip hop, and leisure reading collections of public and academic libraries.
Karen M. Swoopes, Administrative Assistant
With the threat to amphibian life worldwide becoming more and more obvious, and so many people focusing their conservation efforts outside their own communities, there couldn't be a better time to publish a guide to the incredible diversity of amphibian life that exists in Tennessee. The Amphibians of Tennessee, though, is much more than a mere identification guide.
The introductory section which includes a brief explanation of salamander and frog physiology and biology. To give readers a better understanding of the range of habitats in Tennessee, the authors divide the state into eight main ecoregions, and several smaller subdivisions. The topography, climate, geology, flora, fauna, and human influence on the environment are described for each. A number of maps are included to help clarify and provide visual information, as well as a table listing the number of amphibian species living in each region. There are two final sections of introductory material for the reader. One is a chapter on the conservation status of amphibians. Threats range from global warming and pollution, to habitat loss, xenobiotics, foreign species knowingly or unknowing introduced to the area, collectors hunting them for the pet trade, and even cars crushing them on busy roads. After mentioning the ethics and prohibitions concerning the capture of amphibians in Tennessee, and providing a table listing those species of special concern, the authors describe the various methods used to observe and capture amphibians.
Contained within the second section is a detailed identification guide for salamanders. The third section is devoted to frogs (and the two species of toad) native to Tennessee. Each entry includes a map of the state with the species' range highlighted, a detailed description of males, females, young, and similar species that could lead to misidentification. The animals' habits, range, habitats, vocalizations, and conservation status are also explained in detail. The authors even offer the etymology of each species' name. The reader is not, however, limited to the printed descriptions. Nearly every page includes at least one beautiful, color photo.
Matthew L. Niemiller and R. Graham Reynolds are both post doctorate Fellows who have done extensive research on amphibian life. Niemiller has focused his studies on ecology, evolution, and conservation. Reynolds has concentrated on genetics, ecology, and conservation. A great many of the photos in the book were taken by Niemiller himself, and Reynolds provided windows into their research experiences with interesting and entertaining "Field Notes" scattered throughout the book, which documented some of their adventures in the creation of this beautiful and informative book.
This guide would be an excellent addition to any public library and a wonderful resource for naturalists and nature lovers alike.
Elizabeth Nunez, author of seven other novels, has missed the mark with her latest novel, Boundaries. Boundaries is the story of Anna, a Caribbean American immigrant working as the head of an imprint of a major publishing house. The novel begins while she is visiting her parents on the island of her birth. Three days into this visit, she discovers that her mother, Beatrice, has been battling breast cancer untreated for years. Anna, her father, and her mother's doctors convince Beatrice to travel to the United States for surgery on her deadly tumors. The doctor who will perform Beatrice's surgery is also a Caribbean American immigrant, native to Anna's home town, and a love-interest for Anna. Anna returns to the United States before her parents' arrival and learns that her position at the publishing house is being threatened by a merger with another house. For the majority of the novel, Anna attempts to balance the chaos of her personal life with the chaos of her professional life.
One of the major problems with Nunez's novel is the writing style. The novel is primarily in the present tense; however, Nunez slips into past tense occasionally, sometimes confusing the reader. At times, Nunez insults the reader's intelligence by explaining the part of speech she has just used. Since the intended audience for this novel is a literarily-minded reader, such explanation is superfluous. Nunez also overuses literary allusions, which seems more like literary name-dropping than an enhancement to the story.
Nunez's plot is interesting, but her characters leave something to be desired, particularly the characterization of Anna. One would expect the head of an imprint in a publishing house to be a determined, savvy person; however, Anna is weak and naïve. She realizes too late that she is being demoted and that her assistant editor will be her new boss. Anna turns to her best friend, her father, and her mother's doctor for advise on dealing with her work crisis; each of them tells her to fight for her threatened position—until they discover in the last three chapters that the person who will replace her is African American, born in the United States. Suddenly, all three tell her that she should no longer fight for her position because she is second-class and fighting will have no effect. Anna complacently agrees and decides, "She may have to wait; it may not be her turn, but it will be her children's turn…" (p. 256). What is baffling about this is that Anna has already had a "turn" in a position of power. She has the credentials and the experience to give her an edge in the publishing business. By having Anna reach this decision, Nunez has given the novel a cheapened ending; she is playing an unnecessary "race card."
Although Nunez's novel has the potential to be excellent, she falls short in the execution of her craft. For those interested in reading Caribbean fiction, this reviewer suggests looking for an author such as Jean Rhys or Edwidge Danticat instead.
Emily Krug, Emerging Technologies and Cataloging Librarian
In the 1930s, several federal programs were established to get unemployed workers working again during the Great Depression. One such program was the Civil Works Administration (CWA). In 1933 and 1934, pioneers in Colorado were interviewed by CWA workers to record their experiences of pioneer life. These narratives are currently housed at the Colorado Historical Society. In The First We Can Remember, Lee Schweninger, an English professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, reviewed these interviews and compiled sixty-nine accounts from female pioneers. Although he tried to be inclusive, most of the accounts are not from Native American perspectives, as most of the women interviewed were of European ancestry.
The First We Can Remember is arranged geographically, with each chapter containing accounts from pioneer women who lived in the same general area. This arrangement made it easy to compare narratives between the women who witnessed the same events, but who had different opinions or details of what happened. Since a lengthy amount of time passed from when these women experienced these events to when these events were recorded, discrepancies are to be expected. While the narratives are fairly short, with most just a few pages long, Schweninger provided the entire text of these accounts without much editing except to provide clarifications.
The appendix in this book contains letters from LeRoy Hafen, the CWA project director in Colorado, and Anna Florence Robison, a field worker for the CWA in one county in Colorado. Schweninger included these letters to give readers a deeper understanding of the people involved in this program. There are many endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. Maps are also included in the front matter to give the reader an orientation to the many locations mentioned in the text.
Maya Berry, Acquisitions & Public Services Librarian
The New Black is a collection of poetry by Evie Shockley, professor of English at Rutgers University. Although the poems vary significantly in style and subject matter, there are several recurring themes dealing with issues relating to questions of modern African-American, feminist, and gender identity. Many of the poems are fairly straightforward in their language and meaning, while some require significant contemplation to unravel their meaning. In all, The New Black offers a powerful series of musings on subjects of social and cultural relevance.
As one might expect, the poems are highly subjective, as is practically all art of any value. "Dependencies," which draws attention to the discrepancies between Thomas Jefferson's personal life and the ideals he inscribed in the Declaration of Independence, is a fine example of Shockley's ability to write poignant and provocative poems that question widely-held beliefs. In "The Defense of Marriage Act, Alternatives to," a brief but powerful statement about the sometimes-restrictive nature of marriage and the need to recognize same-sex unions, the author conveys her point in simple, clear language. "In a Non-Subjunctive Mood" criticizes the ongoing United States military presence in Iraq, while "At the Musée de l'homme" strongly condemns the marginalization and abuse of women in many societies around the world. However, not all of the poems are so strongly politicized. In "Revisiting," Shockley reminisces about her grandfather during her childhood in Tennessee. Several poems are paired with pictures, creating an interesting and complimentary effect, as in "Go-go Tarot," in which the author muses about the boundless possibilities available to the young boy sitting on the back of a U-Haul on the opposite page.
Libraries, public or academic, that experience heavy circulation of poetry should consider adding The New Black to their collections. The volume would also be an excellent addition to public or academic collections that focus heavily on African-American or feminist studies, because Shockley deals extensively with both topics. While some will surely consider her views controversial and provocative, Shockley's poems offer powerful and poignant statements about matters of great importance to American society in the early twenty-first century.
Aaron D. Horton, Assistant Professor of History
True Confessions: Feminist Professors Tell Stories Out of School (2011). Ed. Susan Gubar. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 334 pages ISBN: 978039307643. bibl. 334p. (1st edition, with an introduction by Susan Gubar.)
Divided into two sections, "Personal Views" and "Professional Vistas," this charming and sometimes challenging collection of short memoirs written by world class feminist scholars is in turns hilarious, illuminating, extremely personal, rather theoretical, and dismaying.
While reading these twenty-seven pieces by well-established scholars in a variety of academic fields, I began to play a game. As I read through each piece, I asked myself, "Who would I like to be friends with?" I immediately chose Tania Modleski, professor of English at the University of Southern California, who tells of her pleasingly absurd recurring childhood dream: "…my life-size doll Susie would come to life and wander off somewhere on her own without telling me; when she came home I would beat the crap out of her" (p. 24). Lillian Faderman is also someone I imagined getting on well with. Professor emerita of English at California State, Fresno, she tells of her closeted undergraduate years at UCLA and her discovery of a book on lesbian appearances in literature in the library. Afraid to be caught with it due to the university's severe stance on "sexually deviant" students, she frequented the library throughout the semester, secretly reading it standing up in the stacks "…with another book in hand to use as a beard lest anyone pass [her] and look over [her] shoulder" (p. 187).
This collection works on several levels. Interesting personal tidbits are woven through the heavier themes of challenges, successes, and scholarly transformations. On the level of Fun Facts, see if you can pair the scholar with the description (answers below):
1. Refused to participate in duck-and-cover drills during the Cuban Missile Crisis; currently writing a book on special education and parent activism
While all of these short memoirs provide some level of the personal (and some provide quite a lot), others are more restrained and written in the hallmark styles of these women's scholarly lives. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, for instance, works hard to strike the right balance between high theory and story-telling, and Nancy J. Chodorow tells of her development as a scholar and thinker in the same straight-forward, confident tone used in her scholarship, a tone for which she reports once having been criticized by fellow feminists as being too masculine.
This collection also records the experiences of these women as students and early professionals, not stinting on the details of problems like sexual harassment and a variety of forms of professional sabotage, as well as the many facets of institutional discrimination and barriers they faced, overcame, and subsequently worked to dismantle. With these stories come succinct and astute analyses of the nature of these hindrances, the clarity of which I admire.
I often hero-worship the scholars and writers who have meant the most to me as a student of Women's Studies. For instance, upon meeting Dorothy Allison at a reading, I inexplicably burst into tears, surprising both of us. And once at a conference, when introduced to a woman whose work I had devoured while writing my thesis, I delightedly blurted, "Oh, it's you!" and took note of her politely startled expression. For those who may develop similarly intense feelings for their intellectual betters after typing their names repeatedly into their Works Cited pages, as well as for those more restrained personalities who might merely be curious about the personal and scholarly development of these ground-breaking pioneers in higher education, I highly recommend this volume.
Susan Wood, Interlibrary Loan Librarian
Busting the myths without busting the man is this book's most important historical contribution. Michael Wallis drops his first clue in the title, which isn't Davy Crockett. Turns out, the famous frontiersman never signed his name "Davy," his moniker from the wildly-popular television program of the mid-20th century. Nor, of course, did Crockett "kill him a b'ar when he was only three," as Disney's catchy ballad taught millions to believe.
He did, however, wear a coonskin cap, though rarely and then mostly for affect. The sartorial trademark started after a farce in two acts, The Lion of the West, or a Trip to Washington, opened at a New York City theater in 1831. Already celebrated for his gifts as hunter and storyteller, Crockett was a one-term Congressman by that time and very well known. The play's hero, though named Colonel Nimrod Wildfire, was actually David Crockett. The actor representing him wore a hat of wildcat skin that did as much as anything else, except for his fall along with the Alamo's, to mythologize the man.
Every last detail of how Crockett died in the Battle of the Alamo will never be known. Wallis acknowledges this while laying out the known facts that are surely just as interesting. The author explains how Crockett wound up in San Antonio in the first place and why he chose to barricade himself inside the fort with 200 other defenders, knowing that Santa Ana's army was coming for them.
Wallis points out that Crockett, at six feet and a muscular 180-200 pounds, was an imposing physical specimen for his day. An engaging personality made him a legendary storyteller whom others loved to be around. But a willingness to take risks that most people would not consider is the trait that fueled the myths the most.
This book helped me get to know a man who was colorful, even without the mythology and even if we never know whether he died a hero in Santa Ana's 13-day siege. (Wallis quotes from a document that eventually surfaced from Mexico that says he bravely endured a tortured execution, but without resistance, after the fort was taken.) Given all that we think we now know about David Crockett, the details of his tragedy at age 49 hardly seem to matter.
This volume is a must-own for academic libraries, particularly those in Tennessee and Texas. Public library patrons would also appreciate its information.
Nancy C. Campbell
Ward, J. M. (2011). Defending White Democracy: The Making of a Segregationist Movement & the Remaking of Racial Politics, 1936–1965. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press. 272 pages. ISBN: 9780807835135.
"Period" is often an argumentative issue for historians, since a period imposes an interpretive paradigm and typically implies either an origin or conclusion. For a couple of decades a conventional paradigm has seen the civil rights movement as beginning nationally with the NAACP's Double-V program during World War II. More recently Jacquelyn Hall proposed a different chronology, a "long civil rights movement," in her article "The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past" (Journal of American History, March 2005).
Ward concurs with Hall, arguing that there was a parallel "long segregation movement" with roots in the well-orchestrated reaction to New Deal federalism among Southern Democrats, and the book focuses on showing the evolution in one side of ideas about American democracy. The author points out that the conflict for dominance between federal authority and local authority was often expressed in arguments about which center of power had the right to define American political participation, rejecting the earlier argument that segregation sprang up unbidden as reaction to activism among the federal judiciary. The author discusses the carefully crafted agenda and priorities of massive resistance to integration and more importantly, the way that social discourse of segregationists changed in the process. He reinterprets the failed Dixicrat movement and focuses on the changes in politics that happened within the ideological camps of segregationists. Race-baiting demagogues of the 1930s gave way to the polished rational segregationists through the 1950s and 1960s. The loss of the South's traditional dominance of the Democratic Party through a change in convention voting practices helped push political conservatives into the moderate-dominated Republican Party at the same time that radicals unseated the Eastern Republican establishment with hard-line organization behind Barry Goldwater. Finally, passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 "hammered home the inseparability of political equality and social inclusion" (179) based on citizenship rather than racial privilege. By then the "silent majority" had begun walling themselves in suburban enclaves protected by municipal incorporations and independent local school districts. Republicans were on the way to adopting the "color-blind" opposition to liberal remedies for a century of marginalization, a tactic that allowed society and geography to be successfully re-segregated along class rather than racial lines, accomplishing the same purpose without being tagged as racism.
Ward is among a new generation of scholars who are looking deeply into the white analog to the traditional civil-rights story. The book is obviously suited to academic historians of the South, but it would be useful to programs in Political Science and American Studies since the author goes beyond the tactical study presented in George Lewis' Massive Resistance (Oxford, 2006) and deals with ideas. Both theme and the writing is well above the level of most freshman, but it will be an invaluable resource for upper-division classes, with a bibliography both deep and rich.
In this incredibly powerful narrative, author David Welky chronicles the events surrounding the unparalleled "thousand-year flood" in the Ohio River valley in early 1937. Beginning with an examination of settlement along the river, Welky proceeds to recount early efforts to understand, control, and minimize the effects of river flooding. This invaluable backstory effectively lays the groundwork for the core of the study: a gripping, powerful and thorough account of a record flood that resulted in the loss of more almost 400 lives, as well as the displacement of upwards of a million people.
This recounting of the 1937 flood and its aftermath highlights the intersection of environmental, political, and social issues of the period. Occurring after years of economic depression, the rising river brought even greater distress to both rural communities and urban areas. Evident throughout the study are a number of themes: the frequent corruption and cronyism of local governments, pervasive racism common in many areas, the emerging role of relief organizations such as the Red Cross, and divergent thoughts regarding flood control and the impact of man on the natural world. Nonetheless, perhaps most important development analyzed by Welky is the growing role of the federal government in disaster relief, rebuilding, and government works and programs. Championed by President Roosevelt, a number of New Deal programs and efforts brought reform and aid to numerous communities once the waters receded. While the effectiveness and value of many of these works is still subject to debate, the exploration of these origins and the reshaping of government, as well as the numerous corollaries to the present-day government of the United States, is likely to be of interest to both historians and political scholars.
Welky, a history professor at the University of Central Arkansas, has previously written other works exploring American social history during this era (Everything Was Better in America: Print Culture in the Great Depression and The Moguls and the Dictators: Hollywood and the Coming of World War II). This study builds upon his comprehensive understanding of the intersection of political and social developments of the period.
This scholarly examination, based upon a review of numerous primary sources, is supplemented with extensive endnotes and a helpful index. The absence of a bibliography, however, is one minor shortcoming that scholars desiring to quickly determine which sources were consulted will surely miss.
The Thousand-Year Flood is well written, thoroughly researched, and a highly recommended read for those interested in 20th century United States social and political history. While the work is clearly focused on a specific point in the past, Welky does an excellent job of providing a complete historical perspective, while also illustrating how so many of the developments and issues of that period resonate and remain relevant to the present day. This work is highly recommended for academic and large public libraries with collections in United States, political, or environmental history. Also, for libraries throughout the Ohio valley region, this work would be an essential element of a thorough local history collection.
Gregory H. Stoner, Librarian
Charles Wright, having published over 20 works throughout the last 45 years, is one of America's most beloved contemporary poets. He has received various awards for his poetry ranging from the National Book Award to the Pulitzer Prize. He is best known for his ability to use metaphors in order to provide new perspective on everyday experiences.
This work of selected poems from Wright upholds his long-standing reputation. Made up of selected poems from six of his most recent collections, Bye-and-Bye serves as an excellent introduction to his celebrated style and wisdom. Poems are organized according to the original collection in which they were published, creating a seamless flow from one to the next. This collection also includes the entirety of Littlejohn, Wright's lengthy mediation on mortality. Poems in this work are focused on similar themes and explore the relationship between humanity and time, death, memory, nature, love and the divine. Each page provides fresh insight on familiar concepts, leaving the reader inspired. Wright surprises readers with references to modern and familiar phrases such as "like a rhinestone cowboy" (from "Hasta La Vista Buckaroo," p. 314) and "A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boo" (from "Tutti Frutti," p. 326), and artfully uses them to convey a deeper message.
Demonstrating Wright's unique and profound ability to touch the soul, this collection is a true representation of his talent and body of work. Bye-and-Bye is highly recommended for any poetry lover, scholar, and is considered essential to any poetry collection.
Claire Walker, Reference and Instruction Librarian