Category Archives: Reading List

Harry Potter and the Long-Term Global Impact

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first offering in J.K. Rowling’s billion dollar literary juggernaut, was published in Britain 20 years ago today and its impact has since been hotly debated. Did the Harry Potter series produce a generation of empathetic individuals? Did it increase literacy, infuse life into young adult book publishing, and help dyslexic children overcome their disability? Or was its impact overblown? Do Potterheads really just need to “read another book”?

Ten years ago, the  New York Times argued for “overblown.” While getting middle-grade readers to plow through a 700-page book was encouraging to educators, it wasn’t a magic pill for declining readership. However, the statistics cited by the Times were US-focused, making the argument a little myopic given the series’ international renown. U.K. and Australian statistics made the opposite case, with one Australian outlet quoting a government official crediting Rowling with making reading cool: “Literature is no longer seen as the province of the nerd.”

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Celebrating a Second Independence Day: A Juneteenth Reading List

June 19, also known as Juneteenth, marks the day when, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted, slaves in Texas were informed of their freedom. As the National Museum of African-American History and Culture notes in a Tumblr post, it could — and arguably should — be celebrated as a “second independence day.” But as the museum writes, “Though it has long been celebrated among the African American community it is a history that has been marginalized and still remains largely unknown to the wider public.”

This morning, the White House issued a statement on Juneteenth that didn’t land well. USA Today compared his statement to that of President Barack Obama, highlighting, as a commentator at the Independent Journal Review also noted, that Trump chose to praise a white person where Obama focused on the freed slaves. For more on Juneteenth, we’ve collected  stories that explain the fraught history of the holiday, and the need for celebration.

1. “What Is Juneteeth?” (Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The Root)

Gates gives a thorough overview of the history of Juneteenth, including a look at other days worthy of celebration.

The Emancipation Proclamation itself, ending slavery in the Confederacy (at least on paper), had taken effect two-and-a-half years before, and in the interim, close to 200,000 black men had enlisted in the fight. So, formalities aside, wasn’t it all over, literally, but the shouting?

It would be easy to think so in our world of immediate communication, but as Granger and the 1,800 bluecoats under him soon found out, news traveled slowly in Texas. Whatever Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered in Virginia, the Army of the Trans-Mississippi had held out until late May, and even with its formal surrender on June 2, a number of ex-rebels in the region took to bushwhacking and plunder.

2. “The Black American Holiday Everyone Should Celebrate but Doesn’t” (Jamelle Bouie, Slate, June 2015)

Bouie is one of many who argues for Juneteenth to be a federal holiday, pointing out that “far more than our Independence Day, it belongs to all Americans.”

Insofar that modern Americans celebrate the past, it’s to honor the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation or to celebrate the vision of the Founders. Both periods are worthy of the attention. But I think we owe more to emancipation and the Civil War. If we inaugurated freedom with our nation’s founding and defended it with World War II, we actualized it with the Civil War. Indeed, our struggle against slave power marks the real beginning of our commitment to liberty and equality, in word, if not always in deed.

3. “City to Acknowledge It Operated a Slave Market for More Than 50 Years” (Jim O’Grady, WNYC, April 2015)

Jim O’Grady’s story on New York City’s plan to own up to the northern city’s participation in slavery notes that the unveiling of a marker to memorialize that history would be pegged to Juneteenth.

“It’s not a feel-good story,” said Thomas J. Davis, a professor at Arizona State University who writes about slavery in the north. “It’s not a story that people have wanted to hear.” Davis and other historians say Americans in the north tend to think of slavery as a fever that gripped the south — a fever cured by the Civil War.

But New York and other northern cities accrued vast wealth from slave labor and profited for centuries from dealings in the slave trade. Africans who passed through the Wall Street slave market contributed to the prosperity of some very famous companies, some of which are still around: Aetna, New York Life and JPMorgan Chase, to name a few.

4. “Juneteenth Should Be a Federal Holiday” (Zak Cheney Rice, Mic, June 2017)

Like Bouie, Rice argues that Juneteenth deserves to be a holiday, in part to combat the attempts at “erasure” by those who claim the Civil War was about states’ rights, not slavery.

In Texas — the state where Juneteenth originated — a new spate of social studies textbooks de-emphasizes the role slavery played in launching the Civil War.

“[It’s] a side issue to the Civil War,” Pat Hardy, a Republican school board member said when the board adopted this new statewide standard in 2010, according to the Washington Post. “There would be those who would say the reason for the Civil War was over slavery. No. It was over states’ rights.”

5. “Juneteenth, Democracy and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions” (Dawn Godbolt, Garnet News, June 2017)

Dawn Godbolt links the importance of Juneteenth to our current Attorney General’s efforts to write policy “in a manner that attempts to steal the futures of African Americans — begetting the question of what democracy means for blacks.”

Previous attorney generals, including Eric Holder and Sally Yates, ordered prosecutors to avoid charges that exacerbated the mass prison industrial complex and to cease using private prisons to house federal prisoners. These changes were implemented in response to a better understanding of how incarceration affects the life chances of offenders, their families, and their communities, and a shift in social attitudes towards marijuana. Session’s policy initiative signals to Americans that race-based policies intended to restrict the freedom of blacks to be a priority for the attorney general’s agenda.

There is an insidious, racially motived ideological belief, that black men in America need to be contained.

6. “Though the Heavens Fall, Part 1” (John Jeremiah Sullivan & Joel Finsel, Oxford American, February 2015)

In this lengthy feature, two writers look at “Texas, old newspapers, race music, and two black lives that shaped the history of civil rights,” particularly at C.N. Love, a black albino who worked as “the Houston advertising agent for several African-American newspapers.”

As a schoolboy in Houston, Love became known as a good public speaker, a deliverer of “orations.” He loved to read, even if holding the book against his face, and he paid attention to preachers’ tricks. His earliest nickname, apart from C.N., was Judge or “the Honorable.” Despite or perhaps helped in part by his unusual appearance, he grew into an object of community pride. In the 1880s he emerged as a figure in the city’s black cultural life, a fixture on the committees that planned the yearly “Juneteenth” or Emancipation Day celebrations, a perennial decider of beauty contests.

7. “National Observance of Juneteenth is Still A Struggle” (Jacqueline J. Holness, Urban Faith, June 2016)

Holness looks both at Obama’s pre-presidency support of making Juneteenth a national holiday and arguments against doing so, such as:

“[Juneteenth] reinforces Black people as passive and as people waiting for others to free them when black people in the South would tell Union soldiers when they showed up that they were free and come and set up camp with Union soldiers,” Penrice says. “Many of them wrote letters to the White House for instructions as to what to do. This influenced the drafting of the Emancipation Proclamation.”

Penrice also doesn’t believe that June 19 is a particularly special day as slaves throughout the South became aware of their freedom on different days.

8. “Juneteenth Is For Everyone” (Kenneth C. Davis, The New York Times, June 2015)

Davis looks at how celebrations of Juneteenth fell and rose in popularity, ultimately arguing, as Bouie did, that it is “a shared point of pride in the symbolic end of centuries of racial slavery.”

Spurred by a revival of pride in African-American traditions long denied or suppressed, Juneteenth has gained official recognition — although not necessarily full legal holiday status — in a number of states, starting, appropriately, with Texas, which made Juneteenth a paid holiday for state employees in 1980.

Still, 150 years after its birth, Juneteenth remains largely unacknowledged on America’s national calendar. Many Americans are unaware of its existence, or its roots. Sadly, that ignorance of Juneteenth reflects a deeper issue: the continued existence of two histories, black and white, separate and unequal.

9. “Juneteenth and Barbecue” (Daniel Vaughn, Texas Monthly, June 2015)

On the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, Vaughn pays tribute to “the menu of Emancipation Day.”

Barbecue wasn’t the only item on the menu. The middle of June being the beginning of watermelon season in Texas, it also found a spot at the table. The Galveston Daily News reported on celebrations across the state in 1883 including one in San Antonio where “twenty-three wagons loaded with watermelons…were destroyed with marvelous rapidity.” By 1933, the menu had been cemented per the Dallas Morning News. “Watermelon, barbecue and red lemonade will be consumed in quantity.

 

The Best of City And Regional Magazines: A Reading List

Last month, the City and Regional Magazine Association, a membership-based body of local magazines and alt-weeklies, announced the winners of its annual awards. This year, Texas Monthly, Portland Monthlyand Sarasota Magazine won overall excellence awards in their respective categories.

Local and regional periodicals fill an important space in the media ecosystem; voices rooted in the sights and sounds of a place can reveal the complexity of what’s really happening in an area. We all know by now that our time is one where the press is imperiled and the pursuit of truth is threatened. There is commercial pressure on journalists due to a fragmented marketplace, and mergers, acquisitions, and consolidations that have shorn staff sizes and budgets.  As we have said before, it is important to support their work.

In honor of the awards, we compiled a few local and regional deep cuts, including some of the winning pieces from CRMA publications. What do they have in common? A rigorous approach to the truth, a convergence of the of the personal and political, implicit — and some explicit — calls to action, and excellent writing.

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Unknowable Dads: A Father’s Day Reading List

Dear old Dad. To hear retailers tell the story, he’s a transparent creature, someone who is pleased by the simple things: a shirt, a book, a steak, a new gadget. But the dads most of us grew up with — and without — are a more inscrutable lot. They’re people, after all, whose past lives, present concerns, and future legacies can vex, perplex, and frustrate their children. Can we ever really know these men? Some of the best writing about dads embraces that mystery, confronting the hard questions of what it truly means to know one’s father.

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Prosecutor, Interrupted: A Kamala Harris Reading List

The junior Senator from California, Kamala Harris had made headlines for more than a decade. She was the first woman appointed District Attorney of San Francisco, the first female and first non-white lawyer elected to the office of Attorney General in California, and the second black woman ever elected to the Senate. If it is possible to go too far with praise, President Barack Obama once had to apologize for calling her good-looking. Elected on the same day Hillary Clinton failed to shatter the presidential glass ceiling, the Sentor has been deemed “the center of the resistance” against President Donald Trump. And this week, during Jeff Sessions’ testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, she was criticized for being too good at her job.

The Washington Post‘s Katie Mettler summed up the situation well:

To those who have observed hearings on Capitol Hill, especially high-visibility televised hearings involving partisan subjects, there has been little or nothing unusual about Harris’s behavior. Members get a small amount of time to ask questions and make their points. Unfriendly witnesses are inclined to string out their answers and let the clock run.

The result, one side rushing, the other stalling, is never pretty. The phrase, “just give me a yes or no answer,” is so often heard it ought to be engraved on the Capitol portico.

But twice now, Harris has been interrupted and chastised by male senators for her style of questioning during the hearings.

For more on the phenomenon of men interrupting women, check out Susan Chira in the New York Times (and this New York Times story, about Uber of course, which notes studies that show men talk far more than women do in meetings).

For more on Harris, here is a reading list with a few deep cuts, including a decade-old profile of the now-Senator as a rising star.

1. “Kamala Harris rips up the script” (Maeve Reston, CNN, April 2017)

Reston managed to artfully profile Harris without interviewing her, doggedly following her around to public events, highlight comments made in other interviews and seeking insight from Washington insiders.

“I was raised to do,” Harris replied. “I was raised that you do, you don’t talk about yourself, you just do. You don’t talk about it after you’ve done it; you just do the next thing…. I would prefer to talk about what needs to get done, versus talk about myself.”

2. “California’s next A-G, city’s pride” (Ajai Sreevatsan, The Hindu, November 2010)

This short, sweet profile from a local outlet in India is a worthwhile and endearing read.

Recalling Ms. Harris’ childhood when she used to frequently visit her grandfather’s house in Besant Nagar, her aunt said, “Even as a child, she was very kind. She could not bear to see anyone cry. She always wanted to go out there and do a few things.”

Ms. Harris retained the close bond with her grandfather, often writing long letters to him about cases, especially involving Indians, when she became an attorney.

3. “Kamala Harris, a ‘Top Cop’ in the Era of Black Lives Matter” (Emily Bazelon, The New York Times Magazine, May 2016)

Profiles of Harris over the course of the last decade are fairly consistent in their representations of her as both smart and warm, but as she is increasingly framed as the antidote to Donald Trump, insinuations slip in about whether she has what it takes to win. Bazelon’s profile offers a lot of lovely personal insights and anecdotes, but the most interesting parts show Harris as a savvy, driven, and strategic politician who picks battles and wins them handily.

Her closest rival, Representative Loretta Sanchez, pointedly told an audience in January, “I think we need a Latina in the U.S. Senate.” As of that month, Harris had raised far more money than Sanchez and had racked up endorsements from unions and other power brokers, but she was well aware that in a state that is 40 percent Hispanic, she still needed the blessing of Latino leaders.

Now her aide had spotted one in the crowd: Jimmy Gomez, a Democratic state assemblyman from northeast Los Angeles. Heading into the scrum, Harris looked over her shoulder at me with a conspiratorial smile. “Here comes the strong-­arming,” she said. “I’m going to be shameless.” She strode up to Gomez, did the forearm clasp and, brisk and direct, asked Gomez to endorse her for Senate. Gomez, a youthful 41-year-old who is a son of Mexican immigrants, seemed a bit taken aback. He mentioned a bill he was sponsoring to ease the financial burden on low-­income workers of taking family leave, which was stalled. “Let’s work on it,” Harris said. “Do you have stories of the people who are affected? You need to tell their stories.” Gomez nodded intently.

4.“Kamala Harris grew up idolizing lawyers” (Sam Whiting, SF Gate May 2009)

There are many fun revelations in this 2009 Q&A with Harris, including the fact that the first time anyone asked how to pronounce her name was apparently in 2009 (unless she was being sarcastic).

Q: Who do you live with?
A: Me, myself and I.

Q: Have you ever been married?
A: Not officially.

Q: Motto?
A: A saying my mother had, “You may be the first, but make sure you’re not the last.”

5. “District Attorney Kamala Harris on working for Jesse Jackson, Barack Obama, and where to get really good Indian food in the city” (Steve Kaplan, Super Lawyers, August 2010)

A random, but fun Q&A with the then-District Attorney, with nice insights into her day-to-day life.

Do you speak any Indian language?

Let me tell you something about the Indian language. I know all the words of love and all the words of dissension and frustration. All the words of strong feelings, one way or the other. When my mother couldn’t come up with any other word, that’s what it was.

6. “Why Kamala Matters” (Nina Martin, San Francisco Magazine, August 2007)

One of the earliest profiles of Harris also happens to be beautifully written and full of incredible anecdotes.

The first time I meet Kamala Harris, she’s trying to convince a roomful of low-level drug dealers that they should get themselves to the gym. “I have a job that’s just crazy,” she tells the crowd of 100 or so young men and women, sounding more like a motivational speaker than the city’s chief law enforcement official. It’s the kind of responsibility she can never, ever put aside. “I get calls day and night,” she says. “That’s a lot of stress.”

What helps her cope, she continues, is hopping on the treadmill every morning. She has to wake up early to fit in a workout, and there are plenty of times she’s tempted to skip it, but once she’s at the gym she never regrets it. She used to watch CNN while exercising, but now she’s decided, “My life is like the news, and I don’t need to watch the news. So I watch MTV and VH1. I know every song!”

“It’s about just being happy and healthy and figuring out ways to cope,” she adds, earnest and slightly goofy, aware that this gym idea is a tough sell to this crowd, even though she’s wrangled them free monthlong passes to 24 Hour Fitness. What her listeners care most about is finding a job with a real future that pays better than selling crack. But she wants them to think about broader issues, like the importance of taking care of their bodies and figuring out ways to feel better that don’t involve booze or drugs. I can’t imagine Hallinan or Gavin Newsom, Nancy Pelosi or Dianne Feinstein, talking like this to a crowd of young, mostly male, mostly black and Latino dope dealers. Harris isn’t lecturing them; she’s trying to connect.

7.“A Lack of Conviction” (Peter Jamison, SF Weekly, May 2010)

This SF Weekly exposé poked holes in then D.A. Harris’ campaign claims while in pursuit of the Attorney General post, with interesting analysis of potentially politically-motivated efforts by a liberal wanting to seem “tough on crime.”

Harris declined repeated requests for an interview through her spokesman, Brian Buckelew. Asked about the recent spate of unsuccessful cases, Buckelew said the past year and a half is an insufficient amount of time to look at when asserting trends in the office’s performance, and that trials represent a small slice — only 2 to 3 percent — of the thousands of felony cases handled annually. The failed trial prosecutions, he said, were “cases we believed in, and still believe in, but sometimes they don’t work out the way we had hoped. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have been brought to trial in the first place.”

8. “Kamala Harris: Democrats’ anti-Palin” (Ben Smith, Politico Magazine, December 2010)

Before Harris was the anti-Trump, she was the anti-Palin. Smith’s profile offers a nice glimpse of the Senator seven years ago, and is a prime example of the consistency to be found in profiles of her.

But like Obama, Harris has sought to avoid being tied to Democratic orthodoxy. Her “ Smart on Crime” approach in San Francisco included cracking down on truancy — including charging the parents of chronically truant children with a misdemeanor punishable by jail time and a fine. Civil libertarians and conservatives alike raised questions about the move, but Harris was unapologetic.

“My staff went bananas” at the policy, Harris said, as did school administrators. Citing statistics linking crime and truancy, she argues that she’s nipping a problem in the bud.

“My bottom line is these children have to be in school,” she said.

“There will be outrage when in 10 years they’re a menace to society hanging out on the corner.”

Tracy K. Smith, Poet Laureate for a Nation Divided

The Library of Congress announced on Wednesday that Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith will be the nation’s 22nd poet laureate, commencing her one-year term in the fall.

Smith, the director of creative writing at Princeton University, will launch her term with a reading in September at the Library of Congress, where she will have an office. She will continue to live in New Jersey with her family, according to the Washington Post.

The poet laureate position comes with minimal strings — “no required sonnets on the occasion of Donald Trump’s birthday, etc.,” notes the Post‘s Ron Charles — and arms Smith with a $35,000 stipend, plus a separate travel budget.

Prior poet laureates have used the role in myriad ways, as Poets & Writers noted:

Robert Pinsky, who served as poet laureate from 1997 to 2000, launched the Favorite Poem Project, through which more than eighteen thousand Americans shared their favorite poems. Several laureates have focused more on bringing poetry into the classroom: Billy Collins curated 180 poems for high school teachers to share with their students every day in the school year as part of the Poetry 180 project, while Kay Ryan strengthened poetry’s presence in community colleges through a national contest and videoconference. Other laureates have opted to raise awareness poetry by collaborating with the media, such as Natasha Trethewey with her Where Poetry Lives video series with PBS NewsHour, and Ted Kooser with his weekly newspaper column, American Life in Poetry.

It appears Smith will take advantage of her travel budget in particular. The New York Times wrote that she “planned to use the position to be a literary evangelist of sorts, by visiting small towns and rural areas to hold poetry events:

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to take what I consider to be the good news of poetry to parts of the country where literary festivals don’t always go,” she said. “Poetry is something that’s relevant to everyone’s life, whether they’re habitual readers of poetry or not.”

Smith was hand-picked by the current Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, who called her a “poet of searching” and told the Post that Smith’s “interest in reaching a broad audience” was appealing:

“One of the things I have been stressing thematically across the library is that we want to be accessible and relatable to people all across the country,” Hayden said. “The fact that Tracy wants to go into rural areas and talk about poetry is such a great idea and something that really excited me because I think that’s the kind of thing we should be doing as an institution.”

While Hayden highlighted Smith’s ability to write poetry about contemporary issues — she was NPR’s first “NewsPoet” in 2012, when she spent time in the NPR newsroom and then wrote a poem reflecting on the day, about a story on Nigerians fleeing violence — Smith indicated to the Times that she may avoid social and political topics:

Though Ms. Smith often takes on current social and political issues in her poetry, she doesn’t plan to use her position as poet laureate to advocate social causes, she said. Instead, she aims to be an advocate for the medium itself and to instill the same awe she felt when she read Dickinson’s “I’m Nobody! Who Are You?” as a girl.

“Rather than talking about social issues, I want to give more readers access to more kinds of poems and poets,” she said. “Poems are friendly, and they teach us how to read them.”

But to NPR, she shared that “she’s been thinking, lately, about how people turn to poetry in fraught times,” and both Smith and Hayden expressed a sense that poetry could be a unifying element in a divided nation, with Smith telling the Post‘s Ron Charles:

“Poetry can help us make sense of the contemporary moment,” she says. “I’m excited by the fact that what poets are writing speaks to a particular moment and it speaks to the ages. Any political moment is uncertain, and a voice that lets us think about that will last. Let’s think about how empathy can drive our perspective of one another. Let’s think about how we can get past what’s binary and simplest to what’s complicated.”

Further Reading: 

A Celebration of Rafael Nadal, the ‘King of Clay’

They don’t call him the “King of Clay” for nothing. Rafael Nadal claimed his 10th French Open title on Sunday at the age of 31. To celebrate, here are four profiles of Rafa looking back at his career.

“Barely 19, He’s Got Game, Looks and Remarkably Good Manners” (Christopher Clarey, New York Times, June 2005)

Carey on 19-year-old Nadal, freshly off his first French Open win.

“I hope all this won’t change me,” he said, speaking in Spanish. “I would like to stay the same as I’ve always been. I hope that I will pull it off, and I believe I will be able to pull it off. I want to continue being a 19-year-old youngster and play my tennis.”

“Ripped. (Or Torn Up?)” (Cynthia Gorney, New York Times Magazine, June 2009)

Nadal, at 23 and the No. 1 men’s tennis player in the world.

Yandell chuckled. “Federer is hitting with an amazing amount of spin, too, right? Twenty-seven hundred revolutions per minute. Well, we measured one forehand Nadal hit at 4,900. His average was 3,200. Think about that for a second. It’s a little frightening to contemplate. It takes a ball about a second to travel between the players’ rackets, O.K.?” He grabbed a calculator and punched in numbers. “So a Nadal forehand would have turned over 80 times in the second it took to get to Federer’s racket. I don’t know about you, but that’s almost impossible for me to visualize.”

“‘You Don’t Have to Be Mad to Be Intense'” (L. Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated, January 2011)

Roger Federer has been Nadal’s greatest rival. They are practically equals on the court (though one clearly dominates on grass; the other on clay). But Wertheim tells us that Federer earns three times as much in endorsements, and Nadal’s playing style is frequently compared to Federer’s:

Roger Federer is such a graceful tennis stylist that Nadal has been cast in the role of the grinder, Hephaestus to Federer’s Apollo. The contrast is entirely too facile. There’s artistry in Nadal’s capacity to go from defense to offense in a single stroke, and in his ability to generate ungodly spin on shots whose angles defy the laws of geometry. “The nuances aren’t past him,” says Andy Roddick. John McEnroe calls Nadal the most skilled net player this side of Federer.

“Who’s the Greatest Clay-Courter of Them All — Chris Evert or Rafa Nadal?” (Steve Tignor, Tennis magazine, May 2017)

It’s difficult to compare the women’s game with the men’s game, but we like to do it anyway. While Rafa continues to dominate on clay on the men’s tour, Tignor reminds us that Chris Evert also dominated on dirt.

At 30, Nadal is still going strong. He could be on tour for another five years and end up winning a dozen French Opens. Even so, it won’t be easy for him to leave Evert behind. The American won seven French Open titles, the women’s record. But that still isn’t indicative of what she did on the surface.

The Tender, Wild Realm of Children’s Literature: A Reading List

The plot of the book came to me as I was falling asleep: two girls share a bedroom, and squabble until they have no choice but to divide their room in half. Only one girl has access to the bedroom door. The other has the closet, which turns out to be an elevator. Suddenly, I was wide awake. I hadn’t thought of this book in years. Thank God for Google; soon, I had a list of results for This Room is Mine by Betty Ren Wright, now out of print. A few clicks later, I learned Wright had died in 2013 at 89 years old. She wrote more than thirty children’s books, including dozens of ghost stories. This Room is Mine isn’t a ghost story (at least not that I remember), but it does feature that archetypal spooky spot, the closet, and a supernatural closet at that. With a touch of fantasy, Wright dispels the girls’ disagreement.

Children’s literature is a conduit for larger questions of identity, fear, joy, and freedom, and the following essays explore these themes.

1. “The Best Children’s Books Appeal to All Ages.” (Gabrielle Bellot, Literary Hub, December 2016)

Sandwiched between Jules Feiffer’s Cousin Joseph and Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend on the shelves of the bookstore where I work is a slim but hard children’s book: The Beach At Night, a book Ferrante wrote, ostensibly, for children. I’ve skimmed through it, and I find it terrifying, as I find any book about a sentient doll terrifying. Perhaps I’ve been too quick to judge. At LitHub, Gabrielle Bellot explores The Beach at Night through the lens of Ferrante’s anonymity and compares the work to C.S. Lewis, Chinua Achebe, Arnold Lobel, Gabriel García Márquez, and Hayao Miyazaki’s decidedly mature children’s stories:

Are these indeed stories for children, if children cannot be expected to get all of these references? But, of course, this is partly the point. Children’s stories are often for adults in different ways than they are for children—and, just as books change for us as we do, children’s tales will, at best, take on new shades of meaning, will reveal new hidden rooms and lofts, as we learn to look at them with more attuned eyes.

2. “Why I Came Out as a Gay Children’s Book Author.” (Alexander London, BuzzFeed, April 2016)

To make ends meet, children’s author Alexander London supplements his writing life with hundreds of school visits. After the Supreme Court ruled on Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 and legalized gay marriage, London wrestled with the decision to be honest with his curious students about his marriage to his husband.

3. “For Children and Sensitive Readers.” (Alex Kalamaroff, Blunderbuss Magazine, March 2014)

Daniil Kharms was co-founder of OBERIU, “the Union of Real Art, an organization of activist absurdists who dismissed realistic writers as purveyors of the drab and demanded a new art that was one-third highbrow language experiment, eight-sevenths freakshow,” He was invited to join the Association of Children’s Literature in 1927, one year before OBERIU was formed.

In 1931, Kharms was arrested and charged with anti-Soviet activities. His children’s books, the police said, were too absurd; they didn’t embrace the new reality. Stalin’s ruffians wanted to live in a world where elephants would not appear out of the blue. They did not approve of extravagant sledding activities. A man screaming poetry from atop an armoire was worse than criminal; it represented a tear in the new reality. In one of Kharms’s children stories, the porcupines shout, “Cock-a-doodle-doo.” In another, Brazil is only a short drive from Leningrad. These impossible occurrences were unacceptable, weird whack-a-moles popping up and poking through the veneer of ordinary life. Who could tolerate such mischief?

4. “Ursula Nordstrom and the Queer History of the Children’s Book.” (Kelly Blewett, Los Angeles Review of Books, August 2016)

You may not know of Ursula Nordstrom, an editor who transformed children’s literature in the mid-20th century. Nordstrom was certain kids would enjoy books that mirrored their complex inner lives instead of dispensing pat morals. She was right. The books she championed, including Harriet the Spy, Where the Wild Things Are, Charlotte’s Web, and Goodnight Moon, are iconic. Like several of the authors she worked with, Nordstrom was queer. In this essay, Kelly Blewett examines Nordstrom’s own children’s book, The Secret Language, through a queer lens.

For further reading about children’s lit, here are Longreads’ takes on authors Beverly Cleary, Mo Willems, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Roald Dahl and Astrid Lindgren, and illustrator Maira Kalman.

Between Life and Death, There’s San Francisco: A Reading List

They came in the tens of thousands, pushing baby carriages and packing roller skates. All in all, an estimated 200,000 pedestrians crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on May 27, 1937, its first day in business. The bridge was already a San Francisco landmark—a flaming, burnt-orange beacon conceived a decade earlier by Leon Moisseiff, who had engineered the Manhattan Bridge. It was a graceful design, but suspension bridges still weren’t entirely safe—the engineer’s Tacoma Narrows Bridge would fail spectacularly only a few months after it opened in 1940.

The Golden Gate also has a dark side. To afford a view of the city, the bridge has a low barrier that is easy to scale. (In “Jumpers,” the New Yorker’s Tad Friend meditates on the bridge’s reputation for death—for the families and friends of those who succeed in their jumps, it’s an indelible monument to their loved ones’ pain.) This month, city workers will finally begin the installation of a new barrier, a grey netting that will blend into the water without obscuring the view. Officials hope it will finally reduce suicide rates on the deadly bridge.

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Forgotten Women Writers: A Reading List

For every Edith Wharton and Jane Austen, there are numerous women writers whose works aren’t found in the typical literary canon or school-required reading list. I’ve come across a handful of people who claim to be die-hard Anita Brookner or Theresa Hak Kyung Cha fans; these writers instill a certain kind of fervor among their devotees. It’s as if the authors themselves had reached out from the bookshelf and chosen their readers rather than the other way around. Their relative obscurity is what makes their fans so passionate — these are voices that never quite found the right audience when they were alive.

Perhaps now, thanks to the megaphone of the internet, they’ll find their disciples with a bit more ease. These five stories focus on women whose work has been overlooked, forgotten, or misinterpreted. Read more…