Here’s the latest on films, books, and music you may have missed.
Citizen Illegal by Jose Olivarez (Haymarket). Vibrant and powerful poems explore stories and contradictions from the author’s experience as a son of Mexican immigrants.
The Heritage by Howard Bryant (Beacon). A leading sports writer traces the history of how white America has treated African American athletes who spoke out against racism, including Paul Robeson, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Colin Kaepernick, as well as those who did not, such as O.J. Simpson, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods. He also takes a close look at the politicization of professional sports by billionaire owners who have promoted uncritical loyalty to the military and police at a time when African Americans have been subject to discrimination and, in some cases, even death at the hands of those forces.
Pictures of a Gone City by Richard A. Walker (PM Press). While focused on the San Francisco Bay Area as a case study, this is one of the best books for understanding how corporate special interests, including the supposedly progressive tech sector, are systematically intensifying inequality of wealth and privilege, the housing affordability crisis, environmental damage, and corruption of the political process in America today.
Flying Jenny by Theasa Tuohy (Akashic). An entertaining novel focuses on two women in 1929 – one breaking into the male dominated world of journalism and another who is one of the first female airplane pilots.
The Girl Who Drew Butterflies by Joyce Sidman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). In the 1600s, a German girl named Maria Merian grew up to be one of the world’s leading students of insects. This fascinating blend of history, science, feminism, and art includes some of the outstanding illustrations she created.
The Russians Are Coming, Again by Jeremy Kuzmarov and John Marciano (Monthly Review Press). The Cold War against Russia was used to justify huge military spending, repression of political dissidents in the U.S., and a series of wars in poorer countries around the world. Now, a new campaign by political, corporate, and media elites to demonize Russia “is designed to deflect public attention from our domestic ills” and “mobilize public support for military budgets and intervention.”
Trouble in the Tribe by Dov Waxman (Princeton). An increasing number of Jews in the U.S. want justice for Palestinians and are willing to challenge policies of the U.S. and Israeli governments.
Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? by Robert Kuttner (W.W. Norton). An increase in the unregulated power of global corporations is the primary reason that living standards and basic security are declining for most people around the world. Political parties and grassroots movements must offer solutions to that root problem or else right-wing nationalist demagogues will continue to rise.
The Battle for Paradise by Naomi Klein (Haymarket). Mass destruction caused by hurricanes in Puerto Rico in 2017 created an opportunity for major economic and political changes to benefit the island’s population – or a chance for outside capitalists to snap up land, win new subsidies, undermine basic rights, and profit from new policies of austerity.
The Oyster War by Summer Brennan (Counterpoint Press). A well researched account describes a recent battle over whether oyster farming could continue to take place in a fragile estuary in a wilderness area on Point Reyes. On one side, National Park Service scientists and environmental groups. On the other, wealthy special interests and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
We Are All Fast-Food Workers Now by Annelise Orleck (Beacon). An optimistic account describes new workers’ movements for justice developing in the U.S., Bangladesh, Cambodia, Mexico, the Philippines, and South Africa.
Grand Canyon for Sale by Stephen Nash (University of California). With a focus that goes beyond the Grand Canyon, this book provides useful facts and analysis on such issues as the impact on public lands of climate change, cattle grazing, and overflying tourism. It also shows that endangered species are often signals of fundamental threats to broad ecological systems.
My Open Heart edited by Tim Sheard (Hardball Press). Nursing home and homecare workers took a summer creative writing class sponsored by their union and wrote short pieces about moments of joy in their lives.
Sea Otter Heroes by Patricia Newman (Millbrook). A book suitable for junior high students follows a marine biologist studying how seagrass on the California coast has benefited from sea otters that control the population of crabs that eat sea hares that keep seagrass clean of algae.
History Teaches Us to Resist by Mary Frances Berry (Beacon). Grassroots movements have been essential to pressure presidents of both major parties, from Franklin Roosevelt to Obama – sometimes winning concrete victories and sometimes planting seeds for future gains.
Misdemeanorland by Issa Kohler-Hausmann (Princeton). Even when conviction rates are low, arrests for misdemeanors often have long-term disproportionate impacts on people of color.
American Hate edited by Arjun Singh Sethi (The New Press). More than a dozen people who have been victims of hate crimes and other discrimination since the political rise of Donald Trump speak in their own voices.
Murder on Shades Mountain by Melanie S. Morrison (Duke). In 1931, an African American man in Alabama named Willie Peterson was falsely accused of murder and then subjected to a “legal lynching” by the court system. Members of the black community risked their own safety in an unsuccessful fight for justice.
The Body Is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor (Berrett-Koehler). Body shaming has deep roots in our culture, family practices, and public policies.
Winning Richmond by Gayle McLaughlin (Hardball Press). A memoir by the former mayor of Richmond, CA, tells how residents built a grassroots movement that elected progressive people of color to the city council and raised the minimum wage, regulated rent increases, demanded better policing, and challenged the area’s largest polluter.
The Rider. A powerful and visually stunning film that straddles the line between documentary and narrative feature tells the story of a young Sioux horse trainer on the Pine Ridge reservation who suffers a head injury that jeopardizes his livelihood and his identity. The key characters are played by the actual people, including the trainer, his father, and his younger sister, who has Asperger’s Syndrome.
Outside In. A 38-year-old man finds it difficult to readjust to his hometown after 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. What will now be his relationship to his high school English teacher, a woman who devoted many hours to his legal fight for release but who has a family of her own and is old enough to be his mother?
The Insult. Two men -- a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian refugee – are each trying to maintain their dignity in the face of past trauma. When insults are hurled, events spin out of control.
The Fencer. At a time when Russia controlled Estonia, a top Estonian fencer and fugitive from Russian authorities gets a job as a schoolteacher. Gradually, he introduces his students – many of them orphans – to his sport, but that leads to a difficult choice he must make about his future.
The Prodigal Son by Ry Cooder (Fantasy Records). With his characteristic top-of-the-line artistry, Cooder presents an unusual “Christian album,” as many of the songs call out hypocrisy in many churches today, including “Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right”, “Gentrification”, “Jesus and Woody”, and “You Must Unload.”
Live and Never Learn by I See Hawks in L.A. A talented band keeps it real, as always, with a variety of quirky personal stories mixed with their usual environmental themes.
Miner’s Eyes by Kelly & Woolley (Clink and Rattle). Two British songwriters sing nostalgically about their personal lives and about industrial and mining culture that has mostly disappeared.