While The Mice Play: What We Are Reading on Vacation

March 22, 2013, 12:50 pm

book-sunglasses-beach_h528Even Radicals must rest someday, although like all academics, for this household going on vacation generally means finding another, nicer, place to sit down and read.  Hence, we have removed ourselves to the island where Christopher Columbus, that murderous wretch, first set foot in the Americas in 1492. So what are we reading here in the land formerly occupied by the Taíno people

Well of course, we are obviously still online:

  • Mandy Berry, who has raised Facebook to an art form, comes out about the Grumpy Cat March Madness Tournament, organized and orchestrated by Mandy Berry herself. I managed to get in by insinuating myself shamelessly, bumping aside an actual friend of Berry’s in the process, following a Facebook announcement that there was only one spot left in the Grumpy Cat Bracket. But hello? I picked Harvard over Arizona Mandy Berry. Why I picked Harvard do not know. I’m not sure I fit the profile of the academic Berry describes in the piece above, one who does not know or care about sports. I have ground my knees into dust playing sports. However, it is also true that I have not followed men’s basketball closely since the UConn men’s team first alienated me via repeated arrests on felony charges a few years back, and then sealed the deal by putting together a championship team with complete disregard to the players’ capacity to actually go to college.  Anyway, my current bracket score is 12, one point behind a slew of other folk, but well within reach of victory.
  • Willa Cather is totally busted: go here for a review of Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout, Eds., The Selected Letters of Willa Cather (forthcoming from Random House, 2013). It seems that girlfriend did not order that her letters be destroyed, as has been assumed. As New York Times reviewer Jennifer Schuessler notes, they do not “yield steamy intimate detail. But they do make clear that Cather’s primary emotional attachments were to women, while also laying to rest what the volume’s editors, in interviews, called a persistent urban legend: that of the fanatically secretive author eager to erase any record of shameful desire.” (Hat tip to my favorite Cather scholar, the butt lovin’ Marilee Lindemann.)
  • What to do when valued history comrades argue? Read and learn, read and learn. Colleagues Jessie Lemisch, Staughton Lynd and Robert Cohen tangle with my collaborator and pal David Greenberg over at History News Network.  I am fond of all these guys, so why take sides? At issue is Greenberg’s review of Martin Duberman’s new biography, Howard Zinn: A Life on the Left (New York: the New Press, 2012) in The New Republic. I was going to read it anyway, but thanks to the Interwebz and the discussion linked above, it has pushed its way up the list to vacation book status. As Brendan Behan once said, “There is no such thing as bad publicity but your own obituary,” and this proves the point (as if that was necessary.)
  • When I go someplace I take books with me that are about that place, a task made ever so much easier by Kindle. Since I am in the Dominican Republic right now, I saved Junot Diaz‘s This is How You Lose Her (Riverhead, 2012), which I think is brilliant, for this vacation. Its mysogyny is appalling, and yet the book managed to win his feminist over because it is a thorough exploration of misogyny, a condition Diaz lodged in the trauma of immigration, racism and a diasporic longing for “home” that is forever an act of imagination. Maybe it’s because I am teaching gender studies this term, and we seem to be in the throes of a national obsession about why (rich, white, well-educated) women can’t have it all, but this book is out of the box in its capacity to depict how working class men and women seek agency within heterosexuality and capitalism, inevitably making complex compromises that reproduce themselves generation after generation.
  • Was delighted to see, as I was shopping for books online, that former Zenith pal Steven Gregory (now at Columbia — yo, man, time for coffee!) had published an analysis of globalization and the tourism industry in the DR some years ago. The Devil Behind the Mirror: Globalization and Politics in the Dominican Republic (California, 2006). I’m deep into it, and while vacation is not the best time to be reading academic books, this one does what ethnography does best: combines theoretical analysis with narrative that illustrates and expands upon the book’s arguments.
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