Here’s the latest on films, books, and music you may have missed.
Glass House by Brian Alexander (St. Martin’s). This outstanding piece of reporting should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand what has happened to America’s working class, especially in small industrial towns. The author, a native of Lancaster, Ohio, returned to his hometown to report in detail on how the factories there were looted by Wall Street speculators, leaving families and communities in ruins, contributing to the rapid spread of opioid abuse, and driving voters to support anyone they think might challenge the corporate and political establishment.
Is Everyone Really Equal? by Ozlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo (Teachers College Press). A useful guide explains concepts such as prejudice, discrimination, oppression, privilege, and white supremacy and answers objections that are often raised when these ideas are discussed.
The Castle Cross The Magnet Carter by Kia Corthron (Seven Stories). A playwright and writer for the TV series “The Wire” has written her first novel, bringing together the lives of two white brothers from a small town in Alabama and two black brothers from small-town Maryland, with a backdrop of American history from World War II through the civil rights movement to the present decade.
The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein (Liveright). Housing segregation by race in America came about not just from actions of banks, real estate companies, and other private interests but also from deliberate policies of the federal, state, and local governments, which now have a responsibility to repair the damage.
Land on Fire by Gary Ferguson (Timber Press). Major changes in public policy will be needed to deal with the more frequent and more intense wildfires that are now a fact of life in the West due to climate change, decades of fire suppression, and other factors.
Complete Stories by Kurt Vonnegut (Seven Stories). A complete collection of his 97 short stories includes some that have never been published before.
Our Unions, Our Selves by Anne Zacharias-Walsh (ILR/Cornell). Women workers in Japan and the U.S. met over a period of years to exchange experiences with creating their own organizations to confront work-related issues.
The Package King by Joe Allen. This year marked the 20th anniversary of the historic national strike by 185,000 UPS workers that directly confronted the destruction of good jobs in America by corporate greed. This history by an author who worked at UPS for nearly a decade sheds useful light on the economy as a whole as he traces worker organizing against the giant company’s strategies to squeeze more from its labor forces.
Faster, Smarter, Greener by Venkat Sumantran, Charles Fine, and David Gonsalvez (MIT). Auto industry insiders give their view of major changes that are coming in how cars and transportation systems operate, driven by corporate profit seeking without public input or policy planning.
A Foodie’s Guide to Capitalism by Eric Holt-Gimenez (Monthly Review Press). Many food activists focus mainly on genetic engineering, pesticide use, and the need for organic farming, but the director of Food First goes further, also looking at issues regarding land control and use; impacts related to race, class, and gender; the role of Wall Street; and much more.
Re-Imagining Change by Patrick Reinsborough and Doyle Canning (PM Press). Successful campaigns for social and economic justice require reframing and countering the stories that corporate forces have told us. This new edition includes updated case studies. As the authors acknowledge, the book contains a lot of jargon, but many of the underlying concepts will prove useful to a variety of activists.
Awake. On-the-scene footage brings alive the native-led resistance to the North Dakota Pipeline at Standing Rock in a way that news coverage never did, contrasting the commitment of the “water protectors” with the government violence against them on behalf of the company. The film is affordable to buy or rent, with all proceeds going to Indigenous Media Fund and the Pipeline Fighters Fund.
Tribal Justice. The Yurok Tribe in northern California has created a successful system of criminal justice focused on healing and on reconnecting both adult and juvenile offenders to community and family support, rather than on punishment and isolation. This documentary focuses on their efforts and on the desire of the Quechan Tribe in southern California to follow their example. In each case, a woman from the tribe has become the chief judge and is working to help undo the legacy of social damage left by the appropriation of tribal lands and the deliberate destruction of traditional culture.
Sacred Cod. As a result of overfishing and climate change, the supply of cod off New England has dropped to less than 4 percent of levels needed for sustainability. Following the apparently successful example of the government of Newfoundland, which banned cod fishing to let the species rebuild, the U.S. government has drastically limited cod quotas. As this hour-long documentary shows, many fishermen facing loss of income and cultural identity have responded by rejecting the scientific data and taking out their anger on “federal regulations,” not on the fossil fuel companies and corporate special interests that have blocked climate action.
The Stopover. An intense feature film, focused on three French women who are completing a tour of duty as soldiers in Afghanistan, shows what war actually involves in a way that few “war movies” ever do.
White Sun. Civil war has done enduring damage to social bonds in the tiny village in Nepal that is the setting for this poignant and expertly crafted feature film. Will the adults be able to learn from their children to transcend the conflict?
Inch’Allah. A Canadian doctor commuting from Jerusalem to serve her Palestinian clinic patients in the West Bank begins to see the world from her patients’ increasingly desperate perspective in this feature film.
Dark Matter by Randy Newman (Nonesuch). The songwriter who once produced refreshingly quirky albums like Sail Away, Good Old Boys, and Little Criminals is back with songs about Putin, a debate between science and religion, a conversation between Jack and Bobby Kennedy, and more.
If you find this helpful, please share this edition of World Wide Work with others.
New and worth noting…
The Talker by Mary Sojourner (Torrey House). Touching, down-to-earth short stories feature relationships among working people trying to survive and find human connection in western desert communities.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Knopf). An absorbing historical novel traces many generations from the time in Ghana when people were being sold to Europeans who shipped them as slaves to America to the present day in the U.S.
The Politics of Immigration by Jane Guskin and David L. Wilson (Monthly Review Press). This useful guide provides readable answers to the most common questions about immigration policy and potential reforms.
White Trash by Nancy Isenberg (Viking). Economic exploitation and cultural discrimination against rural and small-town working class white people have been an important part of American life since the nation’s beginning, according to this revealing and readable history.
Direct Action by L.A. Kauffman (Verso). Disruption to create a crisis that those in power must respond to has been used in a wide variety of movements during the past 40 years, with varying degrees of impact.
The Takeover by Monica R. Gisolfi (University of Georgia). A short book powerfully describes how cotton plantation magnates and others developed today’s southern poultry industry with enormous environmental cost, converting landowners essentially to sharecroppers who assume much of the financial risk, all with massive government subsidies.
The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale (Verso). Policing has drastically expanded in America over the past 40 years, but has that improved communities and made them safer? A thorough analysis examines the War on Drugs, criminalization of homelessness, school-to-prison pipeline, gang suppression, anti-immigrant policies, repression against movements for economic and social change, and other issues, and proposes alternatives.
Good Guy Jake by Mark Torres (Hard Ball Press). A bilingual book for young people tells a story to explain how a union grievance procedure can protect workers from unfair treatment.
Edge of Morning and Red Rock Stories (Torrey House). Native voices and 35 writers (some of them native as well) talk about the significance of Utah’s redrock wildlands that President Obama designated as Bears Ears National Monument – a modest level of protection that the Trump administration is trying to slash, pending legal challenges.
Requiem for the American Dream by Noam Chomsky (Seven Stories). This resource is focused on how the wealthy have maintained power throughout American history, with useful quotes and excerpts from speeches, documents, and other materials.
A Redder Shade of Green by Ian Angus (Monthly Review Press). Those seeking ecological and climate action and those seeking economic justice must work together as we can’t achieve one without the other.
The Wedding Portrait by Innosanto Nagara (Seven Stories/Triangle Square). A simple book for secondary school students uses examples to explain basic movement terms such as boycott, direct action, civil disobedience, and more.
Knocking on Labor’s Door by Lane Windham (University of North Carolina). Five million workers tried to form unions during the 1970s, but there was a sharp increase in the percentage of organizing drives that were defeated by corporate threats and pressure. This readable history looks at both the big picture and some particular organizing efforts, often led by women and people of color.
Company Town. A mostly admirable feature-length documentary gives voice to courageous residents of Crossett, Arkansas, who work in and live next to a Georgia-Pacific paper and plywood mill owned by the Koch Brothers. Local people, including children, are suffering high rates of cancer after being exposed to toxic chemicals in the workplace and in their air and water. With company officials refusing to be filmed, the visible villains of the story become the hapless EPA and state officials who clearly are not going to do anything about it. Missing from the film is the question of why this level of pollution was tolerated during the supposedly environmentally friendly Obama administration, the Clinton presidency, and the Clinton governorship of Arkansas, as well as under Republican rule. The film opens with a prominent credit for “executive producers” Sidney Blumenthal and David Brock, two political operatives who are part of the Clinton family’s inner circle. It also features several talking-head appearances by Van Jones, identified as a “former environmental adviser to President Obama.” As a result, the powerful story told by local people and their scientific allies will be more easily dismissed as just another partisan attack on Republican funders.
Whose Streets? This film about the events in Ferguson, Missouri, that followed the police killing of Michael Brown is not a typical documentary with narration to provide facts and context or with talking-head professors telling what they think it all means. Instead, it is a call to action that presents the voices of young black activists who emerged to lead the protest movement, combined with on-the-scene footage of clashes between police and local residents.
Denial. Taking advantage of access to his father, who is the head of a Vermont utility company, a young filmmaker started work on this documentary about the transition we need to make to cleaner energy. While making the film, his father announced a personal transition from man to woman. The two stories run parallel.
The Nashville Sound by Jason Isbell (Southeastern Records). One of the best songwriters working today continues to present real songs about personal lives and the larger world.
Where the River Meets the Road by Tim O’Brien. “Guardian Angel” about an older sister who died in childhood is just one of these effective bluegrass songs.
Binary by Ani DiFranco (Righteous Babe). Words with a beat:
“For what it's worth,
Next time I watch a man give birth,
I'll try to picture the creator as a dude with a beard,
'Cause right now I gotta say it's seeming kinda weird.”
Ranky Tanky. Traditional songs from the Gullah culture among African Americans in southeastern U.S., rendered with present-day energy.
Pure Comedy by Father John Misty (Subpop). Unconventional lyrics and wry humor, with classic titles like “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution.”
The Eternal Getdown by Quetzal (Folkways). Using indigenous instruments mixed with modern Chicano musical traditions, this politically oriented group tries to look forward as well as protest.
Roll Columbia (Smithsonian Folkways). 26 songs by Woody Guthrie, some never before recorded, performed by Pacific Northwest artists. Many have to do with construction of dams along the Columbia River to provide electricity, which at the time was considered progress for working families.
Joy Comes Back by Ruthie Foster (Blue Corn Music). A mixture of angry political messages and blues, with titles like “Working Woman,” “What Are You Listening To?” and “War Pigs.”
Letters from Iraq by Rahim Alhaj (Folkways). Eight emotional instrumental pieces by an Iraqi-American composer and oud player with a string quintet blending Iraqi and Western classical styles. Inspired by letters from Iraqis about their war-ravaged country.
All proceeds from photo sales at MattWittPhotography.com go to the Rogue Action Center, an independent nonprofit hub for Rogue Valley community organizing for social, economic, racial, and climate justice.
If you find this helpful, please share this edition of World Wide Work with others.
New and worth noting…
Land Almost Lost: A Call to Save Our National Monuments. This gorgeous e-book is available for free viewing and download. It contains photographs of the 27 national monuments that the Trump administration is considering abolishing or slashing, including Bears Ears in Utah, Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon, Giant Sequoia in California, Grand Canyon-Parashant, and Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine. It also tells how to submit a comment to the U.S. Interior Department to help show massive public support for our monuments. New photographs of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, another of the endangered 27, may be found here.
In the Fields of the North by David Bacon (University of California). With more than 300 impactful photographs, informative text and captions, and farm workers’ own moving stories, all in both English and Spanish, a journalist shows the work life, living conditions, and culture of immigrants who produce America’s food supply.
Janesville by Amy Goldstein (Simon and Schuster). After the 2016 presidential election, many commentators made broad generalizations – often based on little actual knowledge – about why many voters in the heartland either stayed home or switched to Trump. Goldstein, a Washington Post reporter, had been regularly spending time in Paul Ryan’s hometown since 2008, following the lives of working people and the business elite. She provides a readable account of how, more than ever, there are two Janesvilles – one thriving while the dreams of many working people become harder and harder to reach.
The Firebrand and the First Lady by Patricia Bell-Scott (Vintage). Pauli Murray was one of America’s most important civil rights and feminist activists, yet most people have never heard of her. This fascinating account follows her from the 1930s to the 1960s as she challenged North Carolina’s ban on African Americans in its universities, Harvard Law School’s ban on women, sexism in the civil rights movement and the Episcopal Church, and racism in the feminist movement. A particular focus is her long friendship and many frank exchanges with Eleanor Roosevelt.
An Unrestored Woman by Shobha Rao (FlatIron). Twelve stories share the backdrop of the partition of India and Pakistan as two countries in 1947, triggering traumatic disruption in the lives of millions of people based on their religious and ethnic identity.
We Were Feminists Once by Andi Zeisler (Public Affairs). Corporate advertisers and pop stars are using feminist images and slogans to polish their brands and sell products. This “marketplace feminism” encourages us to focus not on power relations, race, or class but on individual girls who can succeed if they just improve their self-esteem.
Big Hunger by Andrew Fisher (MIT). As workers’ buying power has declined, many communities have started food banks, often with corporate partners. But telling the public that donating a can of food will address the problem is misleading. Anti-hunger groups should be actively supporting movements to raise wages, make housing affordable, promote sustainable development in rural areas, and win other gains from corporate special interests and the top 1%.
We Are Data by John Cheney-Lippold (NYU). A professor of digital studies delves into the ways big corporations and government agencies use algorithms to monitor and affect individuals’ behavior.
Culture Jamming edited by Marily DeLaure and Mortiz Fink (NYU). A collection of 24 articles examines efforts to disrupt corporate consumer culture through hoaxes, parodies, flash mobs, street art, and other tactics.
Rules for Revolutionaries by Becky Bond and Zack Exley (Chelsea Green). Two political consultants for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign say what they learned from the experience about how to combine technology with person-to-person organizing.
The Battle for Veterans’ Healthcare by Suzanne Gordon (Cornell). Corporate interests are lobbying Trump and Congress to give them control of the Veterans Health Administration. That wouldn’t fix health care problems faced by 8 million veterans – problems faced in many other parts of our health care system as well. Instead, it would destroy a service that in certain ways could be a model for national health care reform.
A Great Vision by Richard March (Hard Ball Press). For those who like to read history through someone’s personal story, this account follows three generations of the author’s family as they immigrated to the U.S. from Croatia, helped build the union movement, and got involved in the anti-war and anti-racism movements of the 1960s.
The Light of the Moon. An honest and nuanced feature film starring Stephanie Beatriz reveals the complex impacts of a street rape on a young Latina architect and her psychological well-being, career, and relationship with her long-term boyfriend.
My First Kiss and the People Involved. A unique and powerful feature film focuses on Sam, a girl in a residential group home who does not speak and only rarely engages with other people. She starts to connect with a new female caregiver, but then picks up clues suggesting that the caregiver has met a violent end. The visuals and sound attempt to replicate what Sam sees and hears, creating an intense introduction to her world.
Hearing is Believing. Rachel Flowers lost her eyesight soon after birth, but by two years old she could play Bach fugues by ear. Now a young adult with a ready smile, she is a highly skilled and creative jazz and rock musician who masters virtually any instrument she picks up.
Spettacolo. For 50 years, a small village in Tuscany has put on a new play each summer with townspeople as the actors – usually developing each play through conversation about their own experiences. But, as this documentary shows, the tradition is in jeopardy as young people leave the area or pursue other interests and as gentrification driven by city dwellers wanting summer homes divides the town.
Black Canaries. A stark 19-minute feature evokes the grip coal mining had on the filmmaker’s ancestors as a man continues each day to enter the mine where his father was crippled and his son rendered blind.
Death by Design. Big corporations are producing staggering quantities of electronic devices with little regard for what happens to the waste, how workers are treated, how the environment is damaged, or other concerns. From China to Silicon Valley, this film shows that a technological boom guided only by short-term profits is not socially sustainable.
Small Pieces by Rakkatak. A Canadian trio shows a variety of musical influences as they combine tabla, sitar, and bass.
Migration Blues by Eric Bibb. A themed album links songs about today’s immigrants and refugees, the black Great Migration from the South, and the Dust Bowl exodus in the 1930s.
Sam Gleaves and Tyler Hughes. Clean, simple bluegrass duets range from children’s music to traditional mountain home themes to several socially conscious tunes, including fine renditions of “Bread and Roses” and “I Washed My Face in the Morning Dew.”
All proceeds from photo sales at MattWittPhotography.com go to the Rogue Action Center, an independent nonprofit hub for Rogue Valley community organizing for social, economic, racial, and climate justice.
New and worth noting…
In the Radiant City. How long must people suffer for past mistakes, and how does a family find a pathway to forgiveness? These are some questions at the heart of this thoroughly engaging and flawlessly made drama. Twenty years before the action begins, a 17-year-old boy killed a child by setting fire to a house. He was sent to prison based on the testimony of his younger brother. Now, the older man is up for parole.
Timecode. Luna and Diego are parking lot security guards, but this delightfully unique, Oscar-nominated, 15-minute feature from Spain shows us that there is much more to these two than their drab uniforms might suggest.
Sing. Faced with an imperious teacher, members of a children’s choir invent a creative way to stand up for each other in this charming 25-minute short feature from Hungary.
4.1 Miles (22 minutes) and Watani: My Homeland (39 minutes) are two powerful short documentaries about what Syrian refugees face.
Ixcanul. In this Guatemalan feature film that gains authenticity from a mostly non-professional cast, a 17-year-old girl in a remote village faces one cultural and economic obstacle after another as she tries to follow her dreams.
The Other Son. Two boys have been raised for their first 18 years on opposite sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. Then, their families learn that their sons were born in the same hospital and mistakenly switched.
Graduation. A Romanian doctor has long dreamed that his daughter will go to a university abroad and escape their country’s bleakness and corruption. But in trying to realize that dream, will he become part of the system he wants her to escape?
Acts and Intermissions. An hour-long collage of words and images centered on anarchist Emma Goldman draws on archival footage, reenactment, and current events.
Fatima. A Muslim immigrant to France and her two daughters each follow different paths as they try to build a life in their new home.
The Watermelon Woman. Remastered for its 20th anniversary, this pioneering film follows a young black lesbian filmmaker trying to make a documentary about an elusive African American actress from the 1930s.
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (Random House). The lives of two couples intersect in this timely novel – a Lehman Brothers executive and his wife on the eve of the 2008 Wall Street crash, and two hard-working immigrants from Cameroon who end up working for them.
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult (Ballentine). A very readable and suspenseful novel (despite an implausible ending) doubles as a thought-provoking introduction for white readers to issues of racism and implicit bias.
City of Grit and Gold by Maud Macrory Powell (Allium). This short novel can work for everyone from middle-school students to adults as it recounts from the point of view of a 12-year-old girl how her family becomes divided by a strike for the 8-hour day by mostly immigrant workers in 1886 in Chicago.
From #Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (Haymarket). Throughout U.S. history, black activists and their allies have found that confronting issues of race requires also confronting issues of class, gender, and economic justice.
Where the Line is Drawn by Raja Shehadeh (The New Press). A leading Palestinian writer tells how occupation of his country has affected him personally over the past 40 years and describes the ups and downs of his long friendship with a Jew living in Israel.
The Vanishing Middle Class by Peter Temin (MIT). Some of the economic, political, and historical roots of the increasing divide between America’s top 1% in wealth and those at the bottom and in the shrinking middle are explored.
All the Real Indians Died Off by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker (Beacon). Two scholars refute 21 myths about Native Americans commonly taught in U.S. schools, media, and pop culture.
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins (HarperCollins). Sixteen short stories by the African American director of the 1982 film, Losing Ground, evoke relationships and experiences during the civil rights era and beyond.
Look by Solmaz Sharif (Graywolf). A poet of Iranian descent writes powerfully about the impacts of war, both in the Middle East and here in the U.S. Some poems are built around phrases in the U.S. military’s Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. Others are in the form of censored letters from military prison, with key words missing.
The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies (Houghton Mifflin). Chinese-American experiences are explored in this novel through four lives in four time periods – a worker in the California gold rush and building of the railroads; a Hollywood actress in the 1920s; Vincent Chin, killed by Detroit auto workers who thought he was Japanese; and a half- Chinese man who goes with his wife to adopt a baby in China.
In Wild Trust by Jeff Fair, photographs by Larry Aumiller (University of Alaska). Text and photos share the insider experiences of the long-time director of an Alaskan state sanctuary for brown bears.
Red: The History of a Color by Michel Pastoureau (Princeton). One in a series of beautifully reproduced art books about individual colors, this one traces the use of red throughout the history of European societies as culture and art trends evolved.
The Revolution Will Not Be Funded by Unite (Duke University). Back in print with a new foreword, this classic collection of essays describes how foundation and government funding discourages some nonprofits from fighting for fundamental change.
Unmentionables by Laurie Loewenstein (Akashic). The main character in this romantic tale is a woman who is a traveling speaker for women’s rights before and during World War I and the fight for women’s suffrage.
Hitler’s American Model by James Q. Whitman (Princeton). In the 1930s, the German Nazis drew on American laws and practices on race as they laid the groundwork for the Holocaust.
Among Wolves by Gordon Haber and Marybeth Holleman (University of Alaska). The writings of a scientist who studied wolves for 43 years shed light on many misconceptions about their social life and hunting habits, and about what humans must do to keep from making them extinct.
Sweet Lorain by The U-Liners. Spirited songs, most with some political angle, performed by a talented band.
The Beautiful Not Yet by Carrie Newcomer. A CD and accompanying book of lyrics and poems that have spiritual overtones, including “You Can Do This Hard Thing,” “Help in Hard Times,” and “Slender Thread” about staying connected.
Graveyard Whistling by Old 97s (ATO). Some fresh songwriting, including “She Hates Everybody (But Me).”
Do What Your Heart Say To by Scott Ramminger. Songs like “Give a Pencil to a Fish” are backed by a lively ensemble that sometimes sounds like The Band or Eric Clapton.
Please share this edition of World Wide Work with others. They can subscribe for free by emailing email@example.com with the word “subscribe” in the subject line.
New and worth noting…
Eagle Huntress. This stunning documentary is a must-see not only for adults but for any kids old enough to read subtitles. It shows a 13-year-old girl in a remote, barren Mongolian community where for centuries teenage boys have been taught by their fathers to train eagles to do their hunting for foxes or other game. With her parents’ full support, this girl decides to break tradition and become an eagle hunter herself.
The Salesman. In an intense film from Asghar Farhadi (who also made A Separation and About Elly), a husband and wife are partners in a theater troupe that is currently performing Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, with the two of them in the lead roles. A traumatic event in their personal lives triggers a crisis in their relationship and calls into question Iran’s cultural traditions regarding gender roles and vengeance.
Loving. Little more than 50 years ago, it was illegal in many southern states for a white person and an African American person to marry. Two people in rural Virginia fell in love, only to be rousted out of bed and arrested by the local sheriff. Their case eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court. This exceptionally well-acted feature film tells their story with a minimum of Hollywood cliches.
Moonlight. A poignant and intimate feature film follows an African American boy through his teenage years and manhood as he comes to grips with being gay in a drug-infested part of Miami.
Union Time. In telling the story of a 16-year struggle to form a union by workers at the Smithfield pork processing plant in North Carolina, this powerful 86-minute documentary provides an excellent overview of what it takes for workers to organize in America today.
Certain Women. Filmmaker Kelly Reichardt has made another subtle and absorbing feature film, this one about three women in a small town in Montana.
Last Cab to Darwin. A 70-year-old cab driver in Australia learns that he has only three months to live, just as it is becoming legal to get medication from a doctor that would allow him to choose the timing of his death. But what does dying on his own terms mean?
Stray Dog. A documentary by the director of Winter’s Bone profiles the everyday life of a Vietnam veteran and his new Mexican wife as he tries to cope with the psychological wounds of war and the growing poverty of neighbors and family members at the bottom of the economy.
Dukhtar. A mother in the mountains of Pakistan is faced with the imminent gift of her ten-year-old daughter to an aging tribal leader. She decides that they should flee to the city, despite the potentially violent consequences if they are caught.
After the Spill. An hour-long documentary interviews commercial fishing operators and others permanently hurt by the BP oil spill in the Gulf and looks at how the oil and gas industry’s practices are rapidly eroding Louisiana’s coastline.
The Year of Needy Girls by Patricia A. Smith (Akashic). This well crafted novel stands out for a number of reasons – the nuanced descriptions of the characters’ complex feelings, the realistic portrayal of how quickly a person’s life and a community can fall into crisis, and the focus on two lesbians and the challenges they face.
Refinery Town by Steve Early (Beacon). At a time when many progressives are recognizing a need to emphasize local organizing on issues of economic, racial, and environmental justice, a veteran organizer describes a growing movement in the working class community of Richmond, California, site of a major Chevron refinery. A broad coalition of labor, community organizations, environmentalists, and gay rights advocates has grappled with many of the challenges being faced in most local organizing, including how to work through differences in order to find common ground; how to ensure a leadership role for younger activists, people of color, workers, and women; and how to connect electoral work with year-round organizing on local issues like living wages, affordable housing, community policing, immigrant rights, and access to health care.
Journey by Beckie Elgin (Inkwater Press). With engaging text and photos, this tells the true story of a wolf that traveled from the northeast corner of Oregon to make a new home near the California border and how it eventually found a mate and started a new family. Well-told stories about the wolf’s experiences make the book ideal for everyone from kids to adults.
The Cabbage That Came Back by Stephen Pearl and Rafael Pearl (Hard Ball Press). A cute bilingual children’s book tells a story that celebrates sharing and generosity.
Writing to Save a Life by John Edgar Wideman (Simon & Schuster). Ten years before 14-year-old Emmett Till was killed by white terrorists in Mississippi in 1955, his father was hanged by the U.S. Army. Wideman revisits that case, and in the process brings up memories of his own as an African American boy growing up in Pittsburgh.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (Knopf). This honest and entertaining book has many elements that work together to make a unique whole: a memoir of what a girl had to overcome to become a successful scientist, the story of her unusual bond with her eccentric scientific partner, and accessible short insights into the lives of plants.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday). A novel vividly recreates the violence of slavery and the repression faced by the few who tried to escape.
Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild (The New Press). Over a five-year period, a liberal sociologist spent time in Louisiana’s bayou region, listening to white working class people whose communities have been devastated by corporate environmental atrocities, who suffer the effects of poverty as inequality of wealth grows, and who support Republican politicians. She reports that the main message they hear from liberals is mockery and contempt, and that they do not see government improving their lives. Interesting companion reading is an article by public opinion researcher Guy Molyneux who presents evidence that white working class voters for Trump are not a monolithic group.
Educational Justice by Howard Ryan (Monthly Review Press). As the Trump administration prepares to speed up school “reforms” that big corporations and Wall Street are pushing, this book explains their agenda and showcases examples of teachers organizing for alternative ways to improve education.
Jimmy’s Carwash Adventure by Victor Narro and Yana Murashko (Hard Ball Press). In this bilingual children’s book, a young white boy gets to know a Latino man who works at a carwash, as well as the man’s son. When the boy learns that the carwash workers are striking for fair pay, he decides to take action.
The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley (Picador). A mystery novel takes us to a small Canadian village that is home to immigrants from Iceland, and then to the home country where they came from, as a young woman tries to sort out her past.
Frederick Douglass in Brooklyn edited by Theodore Hamm (Akashic). A collection of eight speeches by the abolitionist leader of the 1800s still provides interesting reading more than a century later.
And Then We Became by Devorah Major (City Lights). Poignant poems by a leading California writer explore her experience as a woman, an African American, and a granddaughter of immigrants.
The Fire Truck Who Got Lost by Colin Eldred-Cohen (Art of Autism). In this brightly illustrated children’s book, a young fire truck goes with the grown-up trucks to the scene of a fire, but then gets separated and can’t find his way back.
Bluebonnets, Firewheels, and Brown-Eyed Susans by David Lee (Wings Press). A poet humorously remembers the women he knew in the rural Texas community where he grew up in the 1950s.
Frozen Assets by Quentin Bates (Soho). A plot-driven mystery stars a female police officer in small-town Iceland whose investigation of a murder leads her to uncover high-level corporate and government corruption.
Lonesome Prison Blues by Jerry Garcia. A raw, intimate acoustic set with only his guitar and bass accompaniment in a 1982 concert at Oregon State Penitentiary.
Big Day in a Small Town by Brandy Clark (Warner Bros). Good storytelling in the mainstream country music genre.