As you may have noticed, I’ve backed off the book review posts this fall — in part because I’ve taken on too much elsewhere and partly because I wanted to reclaim the pleasure of reading just because rather than worrying about how to shape thoughts for a review.
But it’s a dreary Saturday here in Jamaica Plain and I’ve read some interesting books lately, so I thought I’d pull together a subject/verdict post for y’all. Offered up in order read.
Stevens, Mitchell. Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement (Princeton Univ. Press, 2001). Stevens conducted an ethnographic study of modern home education practices during the 1990s – just at the point when secular counterculture practitioners were giving way in numbers to the evangelical Christian homeschool tidal wave. Though an outside, Stevens’ exploration of the movement’s cultural mores is nuanced and thought-provoking; I would have liked to see more in-depth attention to the gender work secular and religious families perform to justify their life paths.
Citron, Danielle Keats. Hate Crimes in Cyberspace (Harvard Univ. Press, 2014). Keats, a lawyer specializing in ‘net-based harassment and violence against women, has written an excellent primer on the nature and consequences of online misogyny and some possible legal avenues for addressing the situation. The situations she outlines will be familiar to most of us guilty of blogging while female, and her solutions are a thoughtful mix of practical short-term application of existing laws plus suggestions for long-term legal reform.
Lois, Jennifer. Home Is Where the School Is (New York Univ. Press, 2013). Another sociological exploration of home education, researcher Jennifer Lois conducted an ethnographic study of homeschooling mothers in western Washington in the early 2000s. Her study reflects the dominant Christian-based home education culture found in her sample, yet nevertheless has some insightful things to say about the work of caregiving and shifting ideologies of gender within homeschooling cultures.
Gay, Roxane. Bad Feminist: Essays (Harper Perennial, 2014). I admit I resisted reading this book at first because of the title; I dislike the notion that imperfect feminism is “bad” feminism. Of course that is the very point of many essays within this delightful anthology, and Gay’s command of the form made me long to try my hand as creative nonfiction once again.
Priest, Cherie. Maplecroft (Roc, 2014). Billed as first in a series of “Borden chronicles,” Priest’s steampunk / body horror / queer take on the Lizzie Borden case is an homage to H.P. Lovecraft. A chilly tale, Maplecroft is best read on a warm, sunny day or with a mug of hot cocoa at your elbow.
Owen, David. Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are Key to Sustainability (Riverhead, 2009). Environmental journalist Owen has written an oddly defensive tome about the environmentally-friendly aspects of urban environments that are structured into their very existence: In sum, living closer together results near-automatically in major reductions of energy use. Perhaps in the early 2000s the idea that walking more, using mass transit, and sharing walls was easier on the planet was a contrarian view, but much of what Owen has to say seems commonsense — unfortunately presented in a condescending way.
Shorto, Russell. Amsterdam: A History of the Worlds Most Liberal City (Doubleday, 2013). Historian Russell Shorto provides us a well-researched, accessible history of the city of Amsterdam from its Medieval beginnings into the late twentieth century. I have no background in Dutch history and thoroughly enjoyed this narrative of the city’s past that also explored the broader impact of the Netherlands as a political and cultural influence on the world stage.
Moretti, Enrico. The New Geography of Jobs (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012). Economist Moretti explores the geographic distribution of wealth and poverty in early twenty-first century America, asking how the clustering of high-tech industries shape the economies of surrounding communities. Moretti’s myopic adulation of STEM innovation and disparagement of other sectors as drivers of “the good life” — as well as American chauvinism despite his Italian background — grow wearying though his data may be worth taking with a grain of salt.
Mooney, Nan. (Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents: The Decline of the Professional Middle Class (2008). Researched and written before the Great Recession, Mooney’s exploration of the hypereducated poor is nevertheless timely, compassionate, insightful, and passionate in its call for change. This must-read chronicle of the struggle of educators, artists, social workers, ministers — the professionals whose chosen careers require advanced degrees at increasing expense and decreasing remuneration — is a tale of student loan debt, rising core expenses (the trifecta of housing, healthcare, and education), the gutting of social welfare investments, and increasing job contingency; it socializes the problems we are acculturated to believe are individual failures and calls for collective action.
Duberman, Martin. Stonewall (Plume, 1994). This dexterous unpacking of the familiar story of the Stonewall uprising — an iconic moment in the gay liberation era — explores the event through the life stories of six disparate witness-participants. I particularly appreciated how Duberman’s narrative works against the collective memory regading book’s titular event by demonstrating how modern queer politics began long before 1969 and continued in a far from unified fashion after.
Bishop, Bill. The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart (Houghton Mifflin, 2008). Bishop’s core argument — that since 1945 the United States has been sorting itself into ever-more-politically-polarized geographical communities — resonates emotionally in this era of do-nothing congressional sessions, but rings false when considered in full historical context. The across-the-aisles collaborative era of the liberal consensus which Bishop idealizes also saw rampant racial discrimination, misogyny, anti-communist hysteria, and pressure to conform: Desiring to return to a past that never was, or trivializing real effectual differences progressive or conservative values and policies, will not help us make the world a better place for all.
Dorset, Skylar. The Boy With the Hidden Name (Sourcebooks, 2014). The forth installment (counting two novellas) in Dorset’s Otherworld series follows fay-ogre teen Selkie, lately of present-day Boston, and her intrepid BFF Kelsey, as they attempt to save Selkie’s love Ben and prevent a Seelie invasion into Thisworld — all before the clock strikes midnight. Dorset’s pacing can be uneven at times, but full points for creating full-fleshed characters and fae who are chilling in their Otherworld amorality. (Intrigued? Check out the first novella for free.)
I y’all are looking forward to closing out 2014 with a pile of books, a stock of hot cocoa, and lap-happy cats like Hanna and I are most assuredly doing. Best reading!