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Book Talk

by rdf Thu Jun 26th, 2008 at 11:26:31 AM EST

This is an attempt to start an occasional feature where interested visitors can highlight books that they think might be of interest to a wider audience.

I don't think there are any ground rules, the books could be recent or classics, fiction or not, and in any language with or without translations.

I guess there could even be suggestions for books to avoid. Right now in the US there is a rash of what I call BSO's (book shaped objects) which are appearing at a great rate to piggyback on the implosion of the Bush regime, or to justify the author's role in it. I've read a few and not one should have been more 1500 words long.

My first contribution is not a specific book, but a neglected genre: books of the Harlem Renaissance and it's immediate antecedents.

First two by James Weldon Johnson:
The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man - here's a nice review

Along this Way: The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson - the Google page

The first is based upon a person he knew, but the circumstances were altered. An anthology of his works is out in a Library of America edition, and is now easily available.

Second is Zora Neale Hurston whose collected writings are also available from the Library of America. Her most popular book is Their Eyes Were Watching God which was made into a TV movie a few years ago.

What makes these writers interesting is not only the books, but their life stories. Johnson did everything from writing Broadway shows to being a US diplomat, to help found the NAACP. Hurston was an anthropologist when neither blacks nor women where accepted in the field.

There are about another half dozen writers worth reading from the period. What I find interesting is that all the books transmit a sense that the world is changing and that opportunities are opening up, even in the face of discrimination and hardship.

They are a variant on the Horatio Alger formula that was popular at the time, but more realistic and less mythic. Not all were as hopeful. The Marrow of Tradition by Charles Waddell Chesnutt from 1901 details the rise of Jim Crow and lynching from a time when prospects were not promising. Perhaps what it shows is that it is hard to predict the future from current circumstances.

Over to you...

In that vein, for the non-Americans Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man is wonderful.  

The most neglected postwar masterpiece that I know of is Uwe Johnson's Jahrestage  (translated as Anniversaries into English, absolutely amazing, virtually unknown outside the German speaking world. I'm pretty sure I've plugged him before on ET, and I know I'll do so again.

by MarekNYC on Fri Jun 27th, 2008 at 02:01:14 AM EST
I've read The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. It's very interesting from an historical point of view, and, though it's not exactly a sparkling read, I found it impressive in its scope and the fineness of its description of social and racial distinctions.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jun 27th, 2008 at 02:12:52 AM EST
Any useful links to tell me more about the Harlem Renaissance? I haven't come across it before.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Fri Jun 27th, 2008 at 12:03:47 PM EST
The Wikipedia article looks pretty complete:

Of course, this has become a whole academic discipline of its own, like studying Elizabethan England or the like.

I just read a book designed for the non-specialist by basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who seems to be an amateur historian among his other accomplishments):

http://store.kareemabduljabbar.com/on-the-shoulders-of-giants-my-journey-through-the-harlem-renaissa nce.html

That's what probably put the discussion of this period back into my mind.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Fri Jun 27th, 2008 at 12:57:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That looks really comprehensive, thanks.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Fri Jun 27th, 2008 at 01:08:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I thought there were many anxious to suggest their own favorite books, where are you?

Just because I started with a certain connected set of works doesn't mean that the discussion needs to be restricted to this.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 08:55:32 AM EST
Are we supposed to be posting them in this diary?

If so, I would highly recommend "Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750" by Jonathan Israel.

This book is a comprehensive history of the early enlightenment, with an emphasis on the point that there were both mainstream and radical wings of the movement, and that the foundations of the modern world are largely based on the ideas from the radical wing. It concentrates on the central position of Spinoza and his thinking, and gives lots of interesting background information on the underground community that distributed his ideas. Even stuff like detailed analysis of the contents of various private European libraries...

by asdf on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 12:37:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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