Features » July 28, 2014
Four Degrees of Literary Separation
It turns out our favorite authors are each other’s favorites, too.
With the 'free market' increasingly predatory toward poor and working poor people, seeking to turn poverty itself into a profit center, Jessica Gordon Nembhard's book couldn't be more timely.
How do you go from the ascent of Ronald Reagan to empowering African-American youth through travel memoirs in just a few easy steps? Follow our reading recommendation daisy chain to find out, starting with Rick Perlstein, author of this summer's much anticipated The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (August, Simon & Schuster).
Rick Perlstein's summer reading pick: Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison by Nell Bernstein (The New Press)
“We’ve recently seen a florescence of reporting on some of the worst monstrosities of America’s broken 'justice system.' This summer, read Nell Bernstein’s Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison and behold with gape-mouthed awe a nation that puts ten-year-olds in solitary confinement, and where the biggest predictor of incarceration as an adult prison is a tenure in the juvenile facilities that are supposed to “reform” kids for offenses as minor as truancy.”
Nell Bernstein's pick: Cotton Tenants: Three Families by James Agee; photographs by Walker Evans; introduction by Adam Haslett (September (paperback), Melville House)
“James Agee’s work gave me a singular gift: the permission to trade the chimera of objectivity for an intimacy with one’s subject that yields not merely outrage but also a deeper truth. Sixty years after his death, he offers a 'new' work of reporting–the magazine piece that Fortune magazine killed and Agee went on to sculpt into Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Adam Haslett’s searching preface, which places Agee among those 'social visionaries and brokenhearted artists….[whose] work insists that distinctions between the suffering of intimates and the suffering of strangers are an outrage' makes Haslett himself a powerful addition to my personal canon.”
Adam Haslett's pick: Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, by Jessica Gordon Nembhard (Penn State University Press)
“With the 'free market' increasingly predatory toward poor and working poor people, seeking to turn poverty itself into a profit center, Jessica Gordon Nembhard's book couldn't be more timely. If cooperative economic arrangements have any future we must first learn their vital past.”
Jessica Gordon Nembhard's pick: Black Passports: Travel Memoirs as a Tool for Youth Empowerment, by Stephanie Y. Evans (SUNY Press)
“Evans' book introduces us to the concept of literary mentoring, which uses writings (autobiography, biography and poetry, in particular) and people’s reading and exploring of these writings to inform, guide and motivate. Literary mentoring facilitates a unidirectional relationship through one person (usually inexperienced and young) exploring the other’s written words, and reading that person’s words and history, experiencing their world and all their various travels by reading about them and reading their accounts; learning about the person and life through literary experience. Evans’ engaging book shows us how we can use the lived experiences, travel experiences, and wisdom of African Americans to engage young people in developing mastery and competence in all 'micro (self), meso (community), macro (nation), and global (world)' dimensions. The 200 autobiographies she highlights expose young people (and all of us) to new words and experiences, so we understand the world better, and learn how to struggle with, resist and overcome our own challenges by reading about how others like us have done it.”
Never has independent journalism mattered more. Help hold power to account: Subscribe to In These Times magazine, or make a tax-deductible donation to fund this reporting.