Here’s the latest on films, books, and music you may have missed.
When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele (St. Martin’s). One of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter tells the powerful story of her upbringing in a poor neighborhood, where her family faced police brutality and denial of basic human services, and her development as a movement organizer. The account skillfully weaves together personal experiences with broader analysis and statistics.
Braving It by James Campbell (Crown). In this nonfiction book that reads like a good novel, a middle-aged writer from Wisconsin provides an intimate account of several challenging trips he took with his 15-year-old daughter to remote Alaskan wilderness areas. The story is as much about their relationship and their respective stages of life as it is about the wild beauty they are experiencing.
Idaho by Emily Ruskovich (Random House). A violent and seemingly inexplicable tragedy is the starting point for this intense novel, leaving each character to pick up the pieces in their own way.
Crow Lake by Mary Lawson (Dial Press). Written in an unusual conversational style that feels like someone is sitting in your kitchen telling you an engrossing story, this dramatic novel set in an isolated community in northern Ontario explores family relationships from childhood tragedy to surprising revelations in the adult years.
Kids These Days by Malcolm Harris (Little, Brown). Readers of any generation will benefit from this thorough and well-researched analysis of the ways that millenials have inherited a world in which schools, jobs, and public policies leave them worse off than their predecessors.
On New Terrain by Kim Moody (Haymarket). Changes in the economy create new challenges and opportunities for worker organizing. Provocative sections look at whether the Democratic Party can be the vehicle for progressive change and whether it was white workers who elected Trump.
What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte (Belt Publishing). Since the 2016 elections, national media have rediscovered the existence of Appalachia as “Trump Country,” while a Wall Street right-winger named J.D. Vance has made the talk show rounds promoting his book, Hillbilly Elegy, that portrays Appalachians as violent addicts with dysfunctional families. A historian born and educated in the region challenges the stereotypes and recalls a legacy of grassroots organizing against exploitation by coal companies and other outside corporate interests.
Ramp Hollow by Steven Stoll (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). A more intellectual look at Appalachian history starts with the arrival of agrarian whites and shows how their largely self-sufficient way of life was destroyed by timber and coal companies.
No is Not Enough by Naomi Klein (Haymarket). Looking back at how Democrats failed to make major changes when they could have during the Great Recession, Klein argues that change comes from big vision and inspiring goals, not tiny increments, and from an intersectional movement, not a collection of separate causes.
Truevine by Beth Macy (Little, Brown). A white writer researched the history of two albino African American brothers who were put on display for much of their lives as freaks in circus acts. Her book ranges wide, from the story of one brave family to the history of racism in a southern community to the exploitation that was typical of circuses that were a prime form of entertainment in America before movies, television, and the Internet.
Plundertown USA by Al Sandine (Hancock House). A native of the small town of Coos Bay on the Oregon coast recounts how for more than 150 years decisions about how local resources will be used have been made by timber companies and other wealthy interests in distant cities with no stake in the area’s long-term quality of life or economic or social viability. While focused on one community, this history provides valuable perspective on the ways extractive industries operating in rural areas have benefited from public subsidies without having to act in the public interest.
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown). Poetry, seemingly meant to be performed out loud, is often the format in this memoir of growing up poor on a Spokane Indian Reservation, surviving severe health problems and a complicated relationship with his mother, and eventually moving to town to attend a nearly all-white public school.
Animal Wise by Virginia Morell (Crown). Fascinating research on the minds and social lives of ants, fish, birds, rats, elephants, dolphins, apes, dogs, and wolves serves as a reminder of how much humans have in common with the rest of the animal world.
Robots by John Jordan (MIT). A small-format book provides a basic introduction to robots and robotics, with examples such as driverless cars and the impact of robots on jobs. It also identifies economic and social issues that arise as robots are more widely used.
Mudbound. This Netflix original by director Dee Rees is easily the best feature film of 2017, with a compelling story, insightfully drawn characters, and outstanding acting. It focuses on two families – one black, one white – in rural Mississippi around the time of World War II, and in the process it poignantly brings in themes related to race, gender, class, and war.
Keep Talking. Against the odds, women in an Alaskan native community organize to save their language and culture, and in the process to help their young people find strength and hope. This touching documentary shows how their efforts are making a difference in individual people’s lives.
In the Land of Pomegranates. Young Palestinians and Israelis are invited to a retreat in Germany, where they hold blunt conversations about the past and the future. This thought-provoking documentary also is interspersed with stories and interviews that show the human cost of perpetual war. The film could provide a starting point for discussion about ending and repairing the damage done to other groups in other contexts, including African Americans, immigrants, or indigenous peoples, although its length – more than two hours – may often limit that kind of use.
Daughters of Destiny. A four-part series filmed over a seven-year period follows five girls of varying ages who are given the opportunity to attend an alternative school for poor children in India. The school was founded by an Indian-American who made a lot of money during the dot-com boom and believed that a good education could transform families’ lives.
Food for Change. An 82-minute film promotes food co-op stores as an alternative to control of the food industry by Walmart and other giant chains. The co-ops that are featured began as idealistic, mostly white hippie projects and now are multi-million-dollar businesses. The film does not deal with issues such as whether the co-op movement is serving neighborhoods of color or low-income communities, the history of corporate-style tactics by some of the stores to keep workers from organizing in order to negotiate over working conditions, or whether some of the processed food marketed as “health food” is actually any more healthy than what is sold in big chain stores.
The Deep. A documentary-style feature film tells the incredible true story of an Icelandic fisherman who was plunged into the North Atlantic when his fishing boat capsized, three miles from shore.
Awakening Beyond. Tina Turner is one of six women from the U.S., Israel, Syria, Nepal, Switzerland, and India who sing soothing, prayerful music backed by the Philharmonia Orchestra that incorporates traditional instruments from their respective regions.