When I first heard that this 500+ page epic was the summer reading for Whitman's incoming class I thought it was a ridiculous and ill-advised selectioWhen I first heard that this 500+ page epic was the summer reading for Whitman's incoming class I thought it was a ridiculous and ill-advised selection. Holding a copy of the book (it's about 3 pounds of paper) I imagined being a not-yet-freshman holding it and saying to myself, “Nuh uh. No way,” or maybe even, “What on earth am I getting myself into?” I tried to drum up positivity about the selection based on the fact that it was also the local Walla Walla University summer reading and it might give the two schools the chance to come together in unique and exciting ways. I rallied a positive spin to share in public but I felt, at heart, skeptical.
Having just gulped this book in about a week and a half, I no longer think it's so ridiculous.
In The Warmth of Other Suns Wilkerson explored the Great Migration of millions of African Americans from the South to northern and western urban centers of the US from approximately 1915 to 1970. She did so through the collection of several oral histories (over 1200 interviews), the concentration of those histories into three main narratives shared in the book, and research of existing sources such as historic media (newspapers, poems, music, etc) and scholastic works and prior research. No one could accuse her of being cursory in her work, though there are a few facts and ideas she returns to a few too many times.
The bulk of the book is spent weaving between those three central protagonists, mapping their courses from their home states in the South to their eventual homes in northern or western cities. As Wilkerson says, “... it is the larger emotional truths, the patient retelling of people's interior lives and motivations, that are the singular gift of the accounts in this book” (13). These interior lives are unpacked and spread on a quilt of historical information to help contextualize them in ways that are crucial to keep the three oral histories from becoming token representatives of an entire 6 million person large migration rather than the individual lives they are. That said, the closeness of these narrative brings history to life.
Through being a clear intermediary of these stories, Wilkerson allows the reader to access the topic of the Great Migration as what it is: not mere data, and not the inaccurate stigmas associated with migrant populations both historically and today, but rather as a pressing and human story. It's a book about history but also about fear and freedom and bravery, about systems of oppression and how they manifest and the power to define oneself against those systems, and about family and community.
This type of human research seems like the only ethical way to present the Great Migration to a general reader, and it's well worth approaching the tome to gain perspective on forces that help define our contemporary culture in the context of a too often ignored migration....more
Admittedly, I was bound to have a bit of a soft spot for Aaron Bobrow-Strain's White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf. The author begiAdmittedly, I was bound to have a bit of a soft spot for Aaron Bobrow-Strain's White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf. The author begins with an anecdote from his time living in Tucson when he tried to make twenty loaves of bread at once and I lived in Tucson for about a decade. He teaches at Whitman and I graduated from and now work at Whitman. His book is about bread and I absolutely love bread. In fact I'm eating a slice right now, which after reading this book feels like a very complex and political activity. (What difference would it make in your impression of who I am and what my politics might be if I told you it was a slice of Dave's Killer Bread?) But more than about bread this book is about the human cultures built around bread and the power dynamics that shape the production and consumption of as well as discourse about this ever-popular food source.
The book is organized by the social dreams of "good" bread (and fear of "bad" bread) in several different historical periods in the States: dreams of purity/fear of contagion, control & abundance, health & discipline, strength & defense, peace & security, and counterculture resistance & status. Bobrow-Strain points out the ways in which cultural expectations and dreams build on one another and how recent bread trends interestingly mirror and turn back in past bread trends and philosophies in some paradoxical ways. Take, for example, the current trend toward homemade bread: "The countercultural dream of good bread challenged authority and expertise, stood against capitalist agribusiness, and sought to remake relations among people and between nature and society. Yet it also rested on rather orthodox myths of American individualism and independence." (171) Or the new gluten-free trend? Not so new.
As you can probably tell from the quote above, it's not just a matter of bread and dreaming-- bread dreams are wrapped up in a complex narrative that ties in racial and economic inequalities, gender expectations, protest culture, industrial capitalism and it's malcontents, hybrids of artisan values and industrial methods, and more. For example, is bread making anti-feminist in that there is a history of women kept to the kitchen, working and reworking bread dough to unpredictable effects and industrial white bread made home-keeping less slavish? Or has bread making been reclaimed in contemporarily nostalgic fashion, along with home-canned preserves, as something women can approach out of choice and, in so doing, claim as a sign of hard won freedoms?
This book trailer made by a group of student film makers might offer a more visual of some of key themes Bobrow-Strain's text touches on in bread's social history.
Now, I'm not a historian, but the historical information in this book was still accessible and almost always interesting. The history, tempered with the occasional personal anecdote from the author, kept me engaged, and in the end White Bread helped me think more critically about my bread choices and about my assumptions about breads and bread eaters (or non eaters). It also makes me want to better examine the social histories of several other foods I frequent. Perhaps Kurlansky's Salt is next, or a book on olive oil...
But to the point. For a carboloader like me or a carbophobe, a foodie or a sociologist, an industrialist or a communist or a feminist or a capitalist or any intersection thereof, or really anyone living in these bread-obsessed times, this is a worthwhile and smooth read. It probably won't radically change your life, but it'll almost definitely make you think a little more complexly about a little thing it's easy to take for granted....more
Margaret Regan does it right in The Death of Josseline. She explores many different but interconnected aspects (humanitarian, political, economic, envMargaret Regan does it right in The Death of Josseline. She explores many different but interconnected aspects (humanitarian, political, economic, environmental, legal, medical...) of the crisis on the US/Mexico border. Regan accomplishes this while maintaining journalistic and social integrity and fulfilling a commitment to fairly represent the individual realities and perspectives of several undocumented immigrants and documented US citizens.
This kind of measured, well-informed, and at times heartbreaking nonfiction is inspiring. With books like this there are no excuses for ignorance or complacency; these stories (realities!) are pressing and they are very real and they demand more of us. With more writers like Regan I imagine we would have a more engaged citizenry and a much more welcoming & effective politics....more
I started reading Limbo when a professor who identifies as like the Straddlers explored in Limbo recommended it to help people in a position of privilI started reading Limbo when a professor who identifies as like the Straddlers explored in Limbo recommended it to help people in a position of privilege at the college begin to understand or at least empathize with a generally misunderstood, alienated, and under-served population. The way she put it, people in the Ivory Tower often avoid the "C" word, class, and Lubrano provides an approachable window into the struggles he explores that are often shared by people raised in blue-collar families who go to college and take on white-collar careers and identities.
It's an approachable, easy read on often-avoided subjects; the book explores the experience of "status dissonance" through the perspectives of multiple insiders to Straddlerhood (including Lubrano himself).
Coming away from Limbo I find myself better equipped to see and analyze class and educational inequalities as fundamental sources or informing elements of some conflicts or relationships. It's an easy pop-nonfiction read that sparked a lot of thought, conversation, and "aha!" moments, and it is definitely worth reading as a means of casual exposure to major cultural divides that can create a profoundly alienating experience....more